Working at a part-time job at a convenience store near SMU, one drunken person cussed the female clerk because she failed to provide change as quickly as he wanted. She was humiliated but suppressed her feelings because she had to treat customers politely. She wants to quit the part-time job whenever she experiences these types of occurrences, but she can’t because of tuition costs. Concealing feelings and wearing a fake smile for customers are how emotional laborers are taught to behave at work. These days, many students, who work part-time, experience similar situations as the SMU student.
Wearing a Smile
These days, women have advanced in society, especially in the service industry. There are many emotional labor jobs in the service industry. According to the National Statistical Office, about 47.9% of people work in emotional labor positions and 68% of these employees are women.1 Flight attendants, promotions representatives, and communication service salespersons are the top three emotional labor jobs. Women in these positions suffer from depression. A survey of 5,021 women employees working at call centers found that about 56.9% — more than half of the women — suffer probable depression.2 Suffering from verbal abuse and sexual harassment, they seek comfort away from others alone in the washrooms at work. The poor work environment and existence of middle management intensify their stress, and this stress is a huge problem in society today. Internal wounds cause personal disease and family problems.
More importantly, this women emotional labor is related with gender. According to a Korea Labor Researcher report, 30% of women counselors have experienced sexual harassment.3 They face offensive language and sexual harassment about every three days, but they cannot they act upon it because of the company’s attitude towards customer service. Jang Jihye, Division of Chinese language and literature at Youngnam University said, “I work part-time at a convenience store. Many drunken people grab my wrist. I want to quit my part-time job, but I can’t because of tuition costs.”
In fact, the emotional labor force’s shortcomings are becoming more apparent lately due to women students. Most part-time jobs that female university students apply for are emotional labor positions since the owner or the manager of a store demands workers always show kindness to customers. Although students have to endure poor treatment and conceal their feelings, they still jump in the world of emotional labor to offset increasing tuition costs.
Tears Beneath the Smile
Women in emotional labor positions outnumber men because most service industries seek women employees. According to a National Statistical Office’s survey, women employees occupy 75.3% of service industry positions and the rate is increasing compared to other industries.4 Most service industry positions, for example, work at a café, department store, and bakery, seek women employees. Women employees tend to be kinder and smile more often to customers. Kim Kyungnam, a Caffébene owner in Daegu Chimsan-dong, said, “We always hire women employees because customers prefer the kindness of women employees. Also, women employees are well-disciplined in the company’s rules.” Like this, many service industries prefer women employees, so there are more women emotional laborers.
Service industry jobs and housework are not considered professional work in Korean society. Company policy — customers come first — intensifies dissatisfaction among women emotional laborers. Because of service industry development, it is natural that emotional labor has emerged. Formation and maintenance of good relationships with customers are a company’s competitive edge. However, women emotional laborers are being restricted and forced to suppress their feelings during work. To enhance customer loyalty, companies have educated women on strict regulations. Trained women arm themselves with smiles and follow strict regulations concerning trivial issues such as the tone of their voice and smiling. Kim Younga who has been working at Dasan Call Center for 2 years said, “We can’t deviate from utterances written in the manual script. I can’t speak freely. After dealing with a vicious civil complaint, we need time to calm down, but we can’t rest because of a lack of call centre employees.” 5
Men in the emotional labor field include bus drivers and mail carriers. They are also verbally abused, but women have to more often deal with sexual concerns. Kim Jinhee, Division of Business Administration ’13, said, “At my part-time job at a cafe, there are men who often make physical contact. Whenever these events occurred, I restrain my feelings because I don’t want to make a big scene. Also, my manager trained us not to express our feelings.” According to a survey of 2,259 people working as emotional laborers, 29.5% of women are physically touched by customers. In fact, these happenings occur four times a month on average.6 In other words, women emotional laborers suffer more than men emotional laborers.
Dry Women Emotional Laborers’ Eyes
To aid women emotional laborers, the most important thing is for companies to create a service system that is not only for customers. Actually, unfortunate happenings directly correspond to companies’ policies of providing the best possible service. To provide quality service to customers, employees are educated to repress their feelings. Lim Sanghyuk, working as an Environment Health Research manager, said, “Emotional laborers have led to serious society problems, especially in Korea, because of company systems. Companies want to maximum efficiency with minimum employees.”7 They force women emotional laborers to kneel before customers and apologize for any and all claims the customers may have. That is, companies force women to conceal their feelings and apologize. Companies must care for their women employees and create manuals that provide counteraction against rude consumers and customers who engage in sexual harassment. Once employee condition is better, the better the service will be for customers.
Korean society has to be concern with this women emotional laborer problem. These days, women emotional laborer problems are on the rise. After showing concern for the problem, the government must take actions such as implementing programmes for women emotional labourers and improving labor laws. For example, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea has published a Guidebook for Women Emotional Laborers and distributed it to business owners. The book content mandates the establishment of a counseling center, introduction of stretching exercises both before and after working hours, and other things. Also, society must realize that customers are not rulers of service, so they can’t demand change.
For women emotional laborers, they need to think about how to express their inner emotions. Expressing emotion is unavoidable at work, so women emotional laborers need to control their emotions, but not lose their intrinsic emotions. Kim Miyoung, a worker at Hyundai Department Store for 4 years, said, “When I meet a rude consumer such as one who wants a refund for clothing he/she has worn, I must restrain my feelings. Our manager said we must suppress our emotions. I sometimes forget how to express my true emotions outside of work.” Women have worked hard to suppress their feelings but have had no outlet to relieve stress. They need to express their feelings. Woo Jongmin, professor at Baek Hospital, said, “Emotional labor is hard on everyone; they need rest.”8
Let’s Smile Together!
“Emotion is the fruit of evolution and by expressing emotions, people relieve stress and make relationships in his study on human feelings,” notable evolutionist scholar Charles Darwin said. Women emotional laborers are victims of the service industry companies. They are denied human nature. More serious, however, is that women emotional laborers suffer from sexual harassment at work. Society and companies have to heal their wounds and solve the problem. Also, women emotional laborers, themselves, must reflect on their emotions, not just refrain from emotion. Rest and a proper diet are essential at companies. A healthy social atmosphere is needed between employee and business owner.
1 Lee Hyeyoung, “Half of All Emotional Laborers Suffer Depression, Two Times Higher than Normal Persons,” Asia Economy, October 23, 2013
2 Park Yoonhee, “About 68% of Women Emotional Laborers Show Signs of Depression,” E-Today, January 3, 2014
3 Park Chanen, “Wearing a Mask, Are You Emotional Laborer?,” MK News, January 7, 2013
4 Lee Nami, “More Women Occupy Positions in the Service Industry than Men,” Goyangnews, November 26, 2013
5 Lee Hana, “Emotional Laborers, We are Not ARS Service Robots, We are Humans,” Womennews, May 15, 2013
6 Sun Jungsoo, “3 of 10 Women Emotional Laborers Suffer Sexual Harassment,” Gookminilbo, October 14, 2013
7 Lim Jisun, “Servility, More Servility, When Customers Kick,” Hangyurae, December 3, 2013
8 Kim Jaerim, “Emotional Laborers Need Static Rest,” Maeil Business News, August 2, 2013