Writing about EL for Headspring, the executive development specialists, Bevan Rees argues that – in Western society at least – that smile identifies an EL-sufferer. The smile isn’t genuine; nor is it joyful. It’s a façade erected to maintain the illusion that everything is fine when, really, it isn’t.
When the sociologist, Arlie Hothschild, first wrote about EL in 1983, she defined it as the effort an individual puts into managing her emotions and behaviour to keep others happy, even if those people have made her unhappy. According to Hothschild, this isn’t about physical labor but, rather, it concerns the psychological and emotional work required to keep up appearances.
Traditional examples of people who’re vulnerable to EL are those in service sectors or client-facing roles. These individuals often must betray their real emotions in favour of a false smile that, ostensibly, keeps customers happy and coming back for more. Yet the constant suppression of authenticity decreases personal wellbeing and dehumanises personal interactions.
“Humans aren’t machines,” says Jonathan Richards, CEO of Breathe, “but they’re often treated as such by the role they’re inclined to play at work.”
As diversity and inclusion (the need for inclusion) is increasing in the workplace, EL is taking on a new meaning, especially for minorities and marginalised communities.
Karen Bird, Business Manager at Catering24, points out, “Overt discrimination is illegal in the workplace but throwaway comments, which may seem harmless, can include a prejudicial element, such as sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, or ableism.”
Sharon Looney, Chief HR Officer at CoreHR, adds, “In my experience, this shows up in language more than actions. Examples are, ‘Are you comfortable working for a manager younger than you?’, ‘I’m surprised to see a male application for an office administrative role’, or ‘Can your wife not take the Force Majeure Leave instead?’”
These subtle forms of prejudice regularly go unrecognised. The person who’s undermined doesn’t voice his feelings for fear of rocking the boat or making the speaker feel uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the speaker is often unaware of the real impact of her words. Silence makes EL a tricky issue for HR and other organisational leaders to diagnose and address but its presence should not be ignored.
If you spot EL among the workers in your organisation, it may be telling you that your business needs the following: