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The basic thing about work and employment is the asymmetry in the relationship between employer and employee.  That is why this relationship is challenged by some proponents of Socialism.  But now we are seeing the degree of this asymmetry becoming an issue rather than the relationship itself.  Here is an example:How companies force ‘emotional labor’ on low-wage workers

A Starbucks barista’s job is more than just serving coffee. She also needs to be polite, even friendly, to the customers. If she does her job correctly, then maybe the customer will walk away feeling like the barista was actually happy to serve him—that it was not only her job, but a genuine pleasure. In many jobs, that sort of projected enthusiasm may just be a way of earning some additional tips on top of the employee’s base pay. But in other lines of work—including the occupations which fuel America’s growing low-wage service sector—proper emotional responses are mandatory.
 Maybe I am missing the point but low wage workers are exploited in many ways.  The notion of "customer service" has been around for a long time and has, in fact, been cut down in some areas because the employer has cut the work force and loaded the "servers" with a lot more work so that time consuming niceties are not encouraged.  This article seems to be saying that there is a new side to this, but I miss the point.  Read on below and we can try to understand this.

Very often issues like this can serve as a distraction from what, to me, has always been the deeper problem.  It seems clear that people like Marx also saw problems in the capitalist employment relationships.

One time min my life when I got into this deeply was the 1960s.  I was faculty adevisor to SDS at SUNY at Buffalo when the women began to be tired of cooking meals while the men had these big important political conferences.  It was part of a wider reawakening among women that they were in a subservient role even in the radical movement.  As the feminists got rolling again it became clearer and clearer that the employment situation we all took for granted was biased.  The obvious bias has always been those aspects that put women down, but what about men?  I began giving talks about how women's liberation had to be men's liberation as well.  What was a woman going to gain if she won job opportunities that took for granted that your job deprived you from a lot of the time you needed to parent?  Men were taken for granted and their role in the family was expected to be diminished in order for them to be good employees.

The idea that employment should be an integral part of a whole existence as a human being is rather new historically.  The Starbucks example along with others in this article ask questions like these:

The sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild coined the term “emotional labor” in her 1983 book, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, where she described it as ”management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display … sold for a wage.” The term can apply to work in a variety of professions, from escorts to doctors, but it is most often used in reference to the sort of attitude management which occurs in low-wage service sector jobs. Josh Eidelson and Timothy Noah recently discussed two prominent examples in articles for The Nation and The New Republic.
In The Nation, Eidelson highlights Starbucks’ famous “come together” cups as a perfect example of emotional labor. When the CEO of Starbucks required that DC area employees write “come together” on every paper Starbucks cup served until the fiscal cliff negotiations were over, writes Eidelson, he was forcing those workers to “act out a part—from speaking from a company script, to smiling despite verbal abuse or physical pain, to urging that Congress embrace a deal that could imperil their retirement.”
Meanwhile, in The New Republic, Timothy Noah observes that the sandwich shop chain Pret A Manger aggressively monitors its employees’ displays of enthusiasm. If any worker at any particular store seems insufficiently pleased to see their customers, he and all of his coworkers could suffer the consequences. Pret CEO Clive Schlee even monitors whether his employees are making enough affectionate physical contact with each other.
 Forgive me for being cynical, but being an employee has often sucked!  Why do I see this article as a smokescreen for the real problem?  The gap between management and worker has grown but was always noxious.  Since my youth the nature of employment has changed for the worse in so many fundamental ways.  Yet we see the concerns expressed here put forth as if there is nothing else to complain about.

I am wondering if slaves who smiled about their situation were treated more favorably than those who resisted and complained.  I suspect it was true then and always has been.  

What is it we should be struggling for?  I would say that what we want is to put the division between management and employees into the same unacceptable category as the master and slave relationship.  If I can create the wealth with my labor who is more entitled to it than I?  If my working is for my gain and not some boss won't I treat my customer as I should?  How can people swallow this stuff?  We need a big change in the system!

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 06:02 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (11+ / 0-)

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 06:02:33 PM PST

  •  S.O.P. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky
    act out a part—from speaking from a company script

    Warning - some snark above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ "We're like a strip club with a million bouncers and no strippers." (HBO's Real Time, January 18, 2013)

    by annieli on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 06:08:25 PM PST

  •  The Problem Is the Mismatch in Potential Gain Be- (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shuksan Tahoma, Justus, semiot

    tween labor, management and ownership.

    Many aspects of the work environment were the best they ever were for the American masses during the prime decade or 2 of the New Deal - Great Society Anomaly. In that period we imposed compressive individual taxation so that beyond around 3 million in today's dollars, additional wage income had to go 90% to the government in taxes. Investment and inheritance income also were taxed higher than today.

    As a result there was no point in operating business for the hyper profitability that drives the management behavior we see today. That meant greater generosity toward labor, but also to suppliers, to local charity, and of course it encouraged investment in the longterm security and steady growth of the enterprise.

    The problem is that we're evolved physically, intellectually and emotionally for hunter gatherer life in tribes of a few dozen. These space age economies, enterprises and societies are many orders of magnitude beyond the scope of our common sense.

    Most important, they're capable of offering rewards that completely swamp our genetic and cultural heritages' abilities to balance as we try to be members of society when they are completely free to try to balance their individual wants vs community needs.

    Compressive individual taxation cuts that imbalance back by several orders of magnitude.

    Can this and other reforms make our fundamentally individual-liberty-oriented system truly just? I'd bet not.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 06:34:45 PM PST

  •  To me it can be distilled (6+ / 0-)

    into something simple ...

    Good customer service is an employee doing their job.

    Low wages, and poor working conditions is an employer, and a government, not doing theirs.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    Who is twigg?

    by twigg on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 06:50:20 PM PST

    •  Service has always been considered of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      don mikulecky

      lesser value by economists, probably because it is difficult to quantify and account for.
      What seems ironic is that while tangible goods always risk market saturation, especially as their quality improves and they last longer and longer (leading to quality being reduced via planned obsolescence), the market for services is never saturated and the better the service, the higher the price that can be got. So, one can actually use price as a measure of quality and the price doesn't have to be coerced.
      But, I suspect, most economists are impractical people whose services nobody really wants. So, they denigrate service and pretend that their input leads to the production of better goods.

      We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

      by hannah on Sat Feb 02, 2013 at 04:36:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What has happened is that management has (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky, Justus, semiot

    been redefined from being focused on the allocation and use of material resources and assets to the manipulation of people. It's what the business schools started doing in the early seventies.
    Manipulating people comes naturally to people whose practical skills are few. They pretty much have to be able to persuade others to do for them, if they are to survive. Business schools validate this model and elevates individuals who don't, for example, know how to build a car, into management positions.
    It used to be that the industrial hierarchy was the result of skilled people moving up through the ranks, learning every job so that they would then be in a position to teach and determine who can and should do what. Now the managerial class is made up of people whose eye is on monetary results. They're involved with immaterial stuff which presumably, like their verbal interactions, satisfies their limited capacities.

    It used to be said, "those who can do; those who can't teach." That's not a fair assessment. More accurate would be "those who can't, preach or demand."

    The incompetence we see in Congress is not unique. All corporate institutions have been captured by people who talk a good game but don't have a clue how anything works.
    Children who ask "why" used to be considered a nuisance and teased -- mostly, IMHO, by people who couldn't answer the question. Indeed, if one pays close attention, the inability to answer "how" and "why" questions with accurate information provides a clue that the person is incompetent.
    People who don't know how or why should not be tasked with telling other people what to do. That should be the rule. The reason it isn't followed is because some incompetent people are really good talkers. They don't necessarily lie, but they do regurgitate what other people tell them persuasively and accurately and that gives people the impression that they know more than they do.
    Also, people who don't know what they are talking about rarely admit it. They do not know that they do not know.

    Many psychologists, for example, are deceived by clients in therapy who repeat their advice right back to them. The therapist thinks, on the basis of what the client says, that the advice has been not just heard but accepted and processed and incorporated. And then behavior shows that it has had no effect and the therapist feels deceived. That the processing function is simply missing is hard to perceive.
    If you're a person who's not even trying to affect someone's behavior, then the fact that there's no processing going on to change behavior isn't even noticed. If you don't expect change, you don't see that it's not there.

    We have gotten used to people manipulating people instead of transforming their material environment to invent and make new things and replicate the forces of nature. I suspect the latter is related to the tactile sense and that's variably present in people. Some people are "out of touch." Or, perhaps, the sense of touch has to be developed and we have neglected that.
    I think the eagerness with which people have adopted the portable phone and the electronic tablet, following on the joy stick, is telling. I think it is tell us that people's tactile senses were deprived and seeking an outlet.
    When you consider how much a person like Helen Keller can do with the sense of touch to compensate for hearing and sight, it's obvious that in many of us the tactile sense is underutilized. In fact, our integument is our largest organ.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Sat Feb 02, 2013 at 04:27:56 AM PST

  •  has always been true (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    most notably, as noted in one of the previous comments, among house slaves, butlers, livery, waitstaff, who had to serve with a smile.

    The key is that in any customer service job, you don't have to feel anything. It's not "emotional labor." It's acting -- you have to put on a happy face and behave friendly and fun and all that, and keep your problems to yourself because it's not about you, even when a customer says "Hi, howareya?"

  •  I have the good fortune (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    to work in a place that wants everyone to be sucessful, because that's how the entire office becomes successful.  Oh, there are the usual hot dogs who think they are the only one who does stuff "right," or people who trash you for working hard cuz they don't want to.  But those attitudes are not allowed to flourish, like they were in other places I have worked.  Makes getting up on a work day waaaaay more pleasant!

    "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

    by NancyWH on Sat Feb 02, 2013 at 09:02:17 AM PST

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