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Should you be paid for being happy at work?

Jamie Woodcock is a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
Should you be paid for being happy at work?
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Should you be paid for being happy at work?

Jamie Woodcock is a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. His research has led him to writing a book entitled Working The Phones – a study on working life at a UK call centre – as well as having a chapter published in The Work Cure, a collection of essays exploring wellbeing and work.

More recently, he gave HR Grapevine the lowdown on ‘affective labour’. If you’ve never heard of the term before don’t worry. Not many people outside of specific academic circles have. Yet, it’s a type of work undertaken commonly – you’ve probably done a fair bit of yourself. Perhaps, every single day.

As Woodcock explains, ‘affective labour’ regards manipulating feelings in workers, and looking at how they perform – the emotions themselves, and then how this performance links to how the work they do is perceived; the two are, these days, linked - in the workplace. It includes, but is not limited to, the emotions we are expected to display on the job and the emotions we’re meant to inspire in those around us – both customers and colleagues.

He is interested in this phenomena because as the economy has moved from being predominantly manufacturing-based to service work, the emotions one displays in the workplace are of increasing interest to employers – and have come to affect how many of us have come to understand what working expects of us. “Now, for workers, there is an expectation that emotion will be part of your role,” Woodcock tells HR Grapevine.

“Now, for workers, there is an expectation that emotion will be part of your role.”

Whilst a glum-faced factory worker doesn’t impact how many units they could make of whatever it is they were making, the expectation these days is that people ‘perform happy’ on the job. So much so, that we would notice a waiter, or barista if they had a sour face. We would probably even notice if our colleagues, tapping away at their computers, were not as chipper as we had come to expect them to be.

Consider that these days, especially in HR, that it’s not unusual to see job titles like ‘Head of Keeping People Happy’ or ‘Chief Happiness Officer’ – its hard to disagree with the idea that most of us are in organisations where the baseline expectation is that people are happy at work. And happiness, in HR circles at least, has become conflated with the idea of better engagement – which is currently seen as one way of improving ‘sluggish’ UK productivity.

Yet, having to be happy all the time, Woodcock explains, can lead to “emotional dissonance”. “When I worked in a call centre, there were many days when I was not happy…but you still have to maintain that positive manner and that is incredibly psychologically draining,” he adds.

“If you want these things from your workers, you should pay them fairly for them.”

 

Industries with high levels of this kind of work suffer high levels of burnout, Woodcock says - which he adds comes from a failure to recognise, and reward, this extra level of emotional work individuals are putting in. He believes that if you truly want to look after the wellbeing of your workforce, you have to see emotional work as going above and beyond. “If you want these things from your workers, you should pay them fairly for them,” he says.

He also adds that some researchers believe we are now in a culture of “toxic positivity” where the implication is: “Why would you not be happy at work?” However, whilst work will always encompass some stresses, Woodcock believes you should be paid for having to put up with these stresses – such as having to perform, or subsume, certain emotions. However, he also adds that emotional skills are hugely undervalued. “My argument,” Woodcock concludes, “is that that this should be valued as part of your profession – you should be able to take time off because of it.” “It [affective labour] is not an expectation that is valued, in the sense you’re paid more when you use more emotions at work, these are things we are now expected to do.”


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