UF study: Only holders of brainy jobs get paid for emotional toil

10/04/04

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Emotionally draining jobs bring few monetary rewards if the employment does not require great intellectual demands, a new University of Florida study finds.

Friendly waiters, angry bill collectors and nurturing child-care workers are among the many American workers who experience emotionally charged encounters that require shows of empathy or other feelings but have little recompense, said John Kammeyer-Mueller, a UF management professor and one of the study's researchers.

Unlike professionals whose jobs require less technical skill, however, those in positions that are high in both intellectual and emotional demands, such as doctor, lawyer or CEO, are amply rewarded for the stress they place on the worker's state of mind, he said.

"Initially, we expected people to get paid more for anything that makes their job harder because that's been the traditional economic model," Kammeyer-Mueller said. "But we found that many people who have emotionally demanding jobs actually get paid less than their counterparts who have less emotionally demanding jobs."

Using government data on 560 occupations and analyzing salaries and wages for these occupations, his team sought to determine if there was a relationship between salaries and "emotional labor," the task of having to act out an emotion as part of a job that is different from what the person actually feels.

Some economic models hold that anything that makes a job a little more challenging increases the pay rate, Kammeyer-Mueller said. However, he said emotional work might not be unpleasant for people who find that managing their emotions and interacting with others is rewarding.

"The reasons some of these jobs with high emotional demands don't pay as much is that often people in these positions crave the kinds of social interactions that go with the emotional labor," he said.

In the case of a flight attendant or counter worker, the social interactions that accompany the emotional demands of the jobs may be appealing because they make the job less tedious than working on an assembly line or in other areas of manufacturing, he said.

"Most people would rather work behind the counter at Starbucks than work in a factory if given a choice," he said. "No matter how clean and safe the factory is, they would find it boring work."

Because employees with heavy intellectual demands face an additional burden by having strenuous emotional responsibilities, too, they are more likely to be compensated for them, he said.

"In a high-intensity position, like a doctor or a lawyer, you already have a job that is interesting and difficult," he said. "Once you add the emotional component on top of that, it becomes overwhelming for a lot of people."

Few people are able to tackle both high cognitive and emotional challenges, and the marketplace rewards this scarcity with higher salaries for these occupations, he said.

"If this trend continues, we may see even more of a split between the top and bottom parts of the income distribution, between lawyers and psychiatrists, on the one hand, and manicurists and waiters on the other," Kammeyer-Mueller said.

The results have important implications because jobs with emotional demands are becoming increasingly prevalent with the shift from a manufacturing to a service economy, he said.

"Especially with the baby boomers approaching retirement, there is going to be a huge demand for people to provide care for them as they get older and need more help," he said.

Jobs with low cognitive and emotional demands include roofers, cafeteria attendants, hand sewers and key punch operators, Kammeyer-Mueller said. Probably the fewest number of people have jobs with high intellectual skills and low emotional demands, such as physicists, astronomers and zoologists, he said.

Alicia Grandey, an industrial-organizational psychology professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies employee emotions, said the study shows how society continues to financially undervalue labor that takes care of people, such as child care, compared with professions that take care of things, such as computer operators. "If it doesn't act as a wake-up call to re-evaluate our compensation system, I hope this study makes customers a little bit more respectful toward that person who serves them their morning coffee. The kindness of strangers may be what makes that job worthwhile."

Kammeyer-Mueller did the study from 2001 to 2003 with Theresa Glomb, an industrial relations professor at the University of Minnesota, and Maria Rotundo, a professor in human resources and organizational behavior at the University of Toronto. The results appeared in the August issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

"I think jobs in the future are going to require being better able to deal with emotional demands, though I'm not sure we can train people for that," he said. "But those who are able to control their emotions while also serving in intellectually demanding jobs will have the opportunity to make more money."

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To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson