Flight attendants top list for most emotional labor

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Flight attendants top list for most emotional labor


The plight of flight attendants is back in the news just a week after a Posco Energy official resigned for smacking a Korean Air stewardess during a bout of ramen rage. They also have the highest burden of emotional labor among more than 200 professions, according to a report by the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training released yesterday.

Emotional labor, a term first used by American sociologist Arlie Hochschild, refers to a type of labor that requires one to regulate or even fake emotions in order to promote organizational goals, such as satisfying customers in the service industry.

On a scale of zero to five, flight attendants were associated with the highest level of emotional labor at a rating of 4.7 given by the survey, followed by salespeople, who had a rating of 4.6.

“For flight attendants, people always expect them to smile and show the utmost kindness. It’s taken for granted by passengers here,” said Han Sang-geun, a senior researcher at the vocational research institute who conducted the survey.

“The survey asked workers how often they have to carry out emotional labor at work. Those who endure emotional labor for long periods of time are at risk of depression, headaches, and in extreme cases, mental illness,” the researcher added in reference to the study.

Mobile phone salesmen ranked third in terms of emotional labor exerted with a rating of 4.5, and funeral workers came in at fourth with 4.49, according to the survey.

Those in the service industry, long described by the catchphrase “customer is always king,” including the food service industry and service industries, exert higher levels of emotional labor compared to those in other fields.

Specialized professionals such as dentists, physical therapists and nurses are also within the top 30 jobs out of 203 occupations in the survey.

The state-run research group explained that a higher level of emotional labor accompanies a higher level of stress and less occupational independence.

“Female workers have been shown to do more emotional labor compared to their male counterparts,” Han reported in the study.

In terms of education level, those with lower levels of achievement - such as high school or two-year college degrees - tend to carry out more emotional labor than others with higher degrees, according to the study.

“The study shows that job creation is closely related to an increase in the number of emotional labor-oriented jobs in Korea,” Han said.

He added that “a revision in the Industrial Safety and Health Act is needed to recognize that potential damage caused by emotional labor as industrial accident,” especially as the number of service-oriented jobs increases with the expansion of the service industry in the country.

The vocational training center conducted the survey on 5,667 people in 203 jobs over a three-month period from May to June last year.

By Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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