Emotional Labor

Let’s talk about emotional labor for a moment.

For those of you that don’t know what that is: “Emotional labor is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers and managers” Wikipedia

I carry this burden alot, at work, at home, it doesn’t seem to matter. And for those that know me personally, it’s not like i’m sitting on a whole lot of my own emotions – I basically have two (tranquil and pissed) . . . let alone having to feret out and/or deal with others’ emotional shortcomings. Existing in this whirlwind of turbulent emotions is fucking exhausting, which is why I try not to do it.

I get it, as a manager, that’s part of my job. I listen to my employees vent, express their frustration and concern, offering possible solutions, plans of action, or a desired outcome. However, I’ve found myself managing-up quite a bit over the last year and a half. And by managing-up, I mean that i’m doing the same work for those that are above me, guiding their decision making, massaging their overwrought emotions, and fixing the problems created when they can no longer deal with the shit-show of COVID fallout. Altough this isn’t the specific definition of managing-up, there’s an element of doing my job well so that my boss’s job is easier. Since this was always the case, the situation has evolved to something much more demanding on me, where I’ve become the support both managerially (with guidance to deal with situations), disaster recovery (fixing problems that arise from bad decisions), and emotional support. This puts me in a particularly lonely and isolating place. . . somewhere in the middle where everyone has the support they need but me. I have become all things for all people and I’m not entirely sure how that happened.

This past year and a half has been hard on EVERYONE, we all admit that fact. However, the same people that carried you through the beginning, middle, and now this weird lingering end of the pandemic are burnt-the-fuck-out. All we ask of you all is that you pull up your big girl panties, be adults, and FITFO (figure-it-the-fuck-out)!

That’s currently where I find myself, sitting in the eye of a hurricane where everyone has come to depend on me to be the stable, steady one that they can come to but there’s nowhere for me to go.

At home, I’m helping my daughter work through her big emotions and not have her immediate response be a crying fit if something goes wrong. Talking her through all her steps and having the hard conversations about how things make her feel on a fairly regular basis is intense. She’s six and again, I don’t have that many emotions so, this is particularly difficult for me.

So, last week, I found myself at the end of my rope. I couldn’t be polite. I was snapping at everyone. I got up each morning and dreaded walking into my office to discover what new nightmare of idiocy I would face. By thursday, I had had enough and decided to take Friday off as a mental health day. I did all of the things thursday night to prep. I let everyone know, again – taking care of everyone else so they wouldn’t be inconvenienced.

It was glorious. I read a book from cover to cover on Friday. Thank you Lisa KleypasDevil in Disguise was fun. I didn’t check my email, workday, IM, or Slack. If shit was going to burn down, I was going to let it. In fact, one of my employees said she was proud of me for going off grid because even on vacation, i’m never truly out. I have to approve shit or business just stops.

So, I come into work on Monday morning, feeling better but not great, and am greeted with this conversation that is honestly, too early in the fucking morning for this shit.

Boss 7:59 AM
Are you free at 2 pm?

Me 7:59 AM
until 230

Boss 7:59 AM
OK, great – let’s Zoom at 2 then.

Me 8:00 AM
what about?

Boss 8:00 AM
Did your weekend restore you?

Me 8:00 AM

do you have a link?

Boss 8:00 AM
I wanted to check in on what was going with you Thursday evening, specifically, though I think in general, a mental health day was a great thing to do!

Me 8:01 AM
I don’t particularly want to talk about that today. If that’s the only reason we’re zooming, I would prefer not

Its at this point that my good mood starts to decline into anger. Like, what the actual fuck? The only time EVER that I say I need a break and the first thing on Monday morning, i need to report why? I wasn’t capable of being nice. I tried for diplomatic but I think I probably failed MISERABLY.

Boss 8:03 AM
OK, I guess you can come to me when you’re ready to talk.

Here’s the thing, I’d been voicing my frustrations all along. In my mind, there wasn’t anything left to talk about. Plus, i’m not a big talker. I don’t want to talk my feelings out. I want to be left the fuck alone.

Me 8:05 AM
Do i need to explain it, because that’s what it feels like. you are asking me to justify my need for a break. I carry a lot of emotion labor in this department and i needed a day where i didn’t talk to any of you

There it is, just laying it out there. No sugar coating. No diplomacy left in me. Plus, I have the sneaking suspicion that she needs me to tell her that my mental health day wasn’t because of her, which is again, more emotional labor.

Boss 8:06 AM
No no no no no – I agree, I’m just trying to figure out how to support?

I leaned on you a LOT last week, and I wanted you to know that I am aware of it, I don’t want to wear you out, AND I want to shift the things that most need to change.

I can’t with this one, as if my reasoning was because I had too many reports to run.

Me 8:08 AM
i need us to follow the policies we have. I lose both credibility and authority when decisions are made contrary to those policies

Part of the issue here is that we have these policies, they’re in writing and publically available. Then someone comes along and is like, but this extenuating circumstance, boo hoo. And we don’t follow the policy becasue feelings. Then I have to deal with the fallout of those breaks in policy and then people circumvent me to go to her because they won’t have to follow policy. Then I have to make her feel better for making bad decisions when she doesn’t understand why people keep acting they way they do. No matter how many times I remind her that its because they get what they want, it doesn’t seem to sink in.

Boss 8:09 AM
Is this about the visiting scholar issue? specifically? or other things?

Me 8:09 AM
culmination of 6 months of this. Name with held, the scholars, etc. I don’t feel like the ground beneath my feet is solid.

Again, me just laying it out there. I’m honestly, not sure how there is any confusion.

Boss 8:11 AM
OK, got it. So let’s just put a pin in it and I will check back in in a month to see whether things are better.

This one leads up to the message from 8:06. The answer about how its going to be better is that she stop leaning on me for everything. And to support, she has to actually carry her own weight. Putting a pin in it, isn’t going to make it better if behaviours do not change.

However, this whole conversation leads into another queston for me; Why does something have to be wrong for me to need a mental health day? Maybe i’m just burnt out. Maybe I have anxiety. Maybe I have depression issues that I haven’t made public. Or a myriad of other reasons. None of that is anyone’s business but my own. The pressure to have to explain myself still pisses me off, even if it was five days ago.

So, here we are. I had to take a mental health day to recoup from all the emotional labor and then come back to the need to pick up someone else’s emotional health before the office is even open for regular business hours.

For all those people out there who are picking up the emotional labor at home, at work, with your friends and family – on top of everything else – I see you.

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