Police psychology has to deal very often with an ultimate question: does the person really like being a police officer? For the most part the answer is “yes…but” with the “but” usually being something about a boss. Everyone likes to complain about his or her job, yet when you really think about it, does your boss expect too much of you? When the average person asks this question to him or herself, the common considerations that you would judge would most likely be: “Does my work keep me ridiculously late? Are my quotas realistic? Am I being paid corresponding equally to the amount of work I invest in my job?” There is actually something much more important to consider. Put the physical labor you invest into your work on hold for one moment and consider something much less tangible: emotional labor. Taking emotional labor into account, ask yourselves once more: are our jobs expecting too much from us?

The Managed Heart

In order to understand this question fully, we need to explore exactly what emotional labor means. Early psychologists and sociologists focused on the rational, enlightened individual, ignoring emotions and feelings altogether. That great for “rational, enlightened individuals,” I think I even met one once many years ago, but what about the rest of us normal people? In fact, even when normal individuals begin exploring emotions, they tend to do it on a societal level, ignoring how emotions are involved in personal, day-to-day interactions. Arlie Hochschild, a renowned sociologist, discusses the concept of the “managed heart.” In this exploration of emotions, she explores how they relate and are expressed in social interactions among individuals, sort of a real thing.

When Hochschild refers to the managed heart, she is referencing an idea she calls emotional labor. Emotional labor, much like physical or mental labor, requires effort, especially when done in public or for an institution or organization. Most people create a public façade that is in line with the expectations of society. They say when a cop puts on the uniform, they put on a “cop personality.” But that happens with others too. For instance, a flight attendant is required to smile, regardless of how they are really feeling inside. This requires tremendous effort, particularly when they are tired or upset about something, or just having a BFD (bad day). This problem, when there is a disjunctive between how a person really feels and the emotional display necessary for a situation, it can lead that person to feel isolation from their emotions, like their emotions are just a “thing” used for work and not something very private and very personal. In short, they can feel alienated from their own emotions! This is what is called isolation of affect. Isolation of affect can wear you down and cause your job to have emotional labor. Now if you followed all that without drifting off, you got a really important concept down. And if you drifted to a Caribbean beach, with bikini clad women or hunky men (your choice) , take me with you next time I need a break.

Hochschild refers to the idea of transmutation to explain that things that we normally manage in private (like our feelings and emotions) are now being dictated by organizational rule books. In general, people apply latent feeling rules to all situations, changing their emotions based on how they think they should react to situations, but now, with the advent of emotion as a form of labor, people are required to socially engineer their emotions based on company policy or social requirements. So now, an employer is feeling like they not only bought your physical labor and intellective skills, but some emotional labor as well. That sort of sucks!

Companies value communication and interactions with other individuals and, above all, social appropriateness. This is significant because if you are feeling emotionally drained while working on a machine, you didn’t used to need to hide it, but now depending on the company you might. The rules change from company to company, and sometimes it is hard to know what the rules are until you “mess up.” When you are working with people, there is always an expectation that you will manage your true feelings and only display that which is appropriate or acceptable for the situation (ie. smiling on the job, being sad at a funeral, etc…). (Unless you are a lawyer, then you have no rules). The labor of controlling your emotions is now a large part of the job and a part it takes people some time to understand.

Instruments of Labor

Darwin considers emotions instinctual; Freud considers emotions as part of libido. Hochschild differs in her understanding of emotion because she sees emotion as being constructed by individuals through interactions with others. This concept of emotion also differs from our typical understanding of emotion in human jargon, in which emotions are seen as sensual, angry, sad…essentially extensions of our inner beings. But Hochschild converts emotion into an “instrument of labor”—a commodity bound by the laws of supply and demand. This suggests emotions and emotional management is no longer private, individualized, but instead structured according to rules and external expectations.

Although Hochschild’s study was with flight attendants, the idea behind emotional labor is not limited to that profession. Any time you need to put on a fake smile for your job, anytime you need to be falsely cheerful, or pretend to commiserate with a client, you are using your emotions as a form of free labor. If your boss has ever demanded of you good cheer regardless of how you’re feeling, or if you’re a waiter or waitress dealing with particularly rude customers and you’re still expected to put a smile on your face, you’re using your emotions as a form of free labor.

In police psychology, you have to be well attuned to this as cops are major emotional managers. I see this concept fairly frequently in my therapy sessions. Sometimes I will ask someone how they feel about something going on in their life, and instead of getting an honest answer, I can tell these people are telling me what they think I want them to feel. In other words, they are managing their emotions based on perceived “rules” of therapy and society. I don’t let them get away with that. I usually use a very graphic, creative, and often times funny way of embarrassing and causing pain to someone when a cop hits me with an appropriate way of dealing with someone who has frustrated them with emotional labor. I usually get a laugh and an agreement, then I can go into the concept of emotional labor with them. A Chris Rock version of police psychology, I guess. It works!

Now consider the emotional labor you invest in your work and once more ask yourselves: is your job expecting too much of you?

Three Ways to Reduce Emotional Labor

1. Try to compartmentalize emotions and distinguish between “work” emotions and “home/real emotions.” Have a separate space for each. Find friends that you can totally tell everything to about your emotions. Sometimes a spouse is good for that, but frequently they are not because they are so intertwined in your life. Be careful when you find this person because you will become exceptionally close to this person and you don’t want to risk your marriage to them.
2. Stay in touch with your own emotions by keeping a journal or emotion diary to explore how you really feel about something (to prevent alienation from your own emotions). We don’t want you getting to a point where you can’t laugh anymore and where your built of frustration explodes.
3. I don’t refer people to the helping professions often, but I will this time. If you can find a therapist to help you sort it out, structure them with the idea of isolation of affect and emotional labor and keep them on task when they are talking to you. You will get a lot out of it.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.