Emotional Perceptiveness

Every forth sick note in the workplace is associated with psychological stress (BDP, 2008) and profound states of exhaustion like burnout are a regular subject in the media, not least because of affected celebrities. The incidence of sick notes due to psychological stress has been increasing for years. At the same time, meanwhile more than two thirds of German employees work in the service sector (Sachverständigenrat zur Begutachtung der gesamtwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung, 2008), what makes particular demands on mental resilience. Organizations as well as customers expect service workers to appear friendly in contact with customers. To satisfy this demand, service workers have to partly suppress their true feelings, and express emotions that do not correspond to their actual feeling. For this process, the sociologist Arlie Hochschild (1983) shaped the term ‘emotion labor’. Since then, research has shown that emotion labor is associated with a series of negative consequences for service workers, such as psychosomatic impairments, work dissatisfaction and burnout.

We consider the question, which individuals are better able to cope with work demands in the service sector, so that negative effects of emotion labor can be mitigated or totally avoided. Thereby, we investigate the importance of emotional perceptiveness on the part of service workers. Individuals with high emotional perceptiveness are especially able to recognize the current feelings of their interaction partners from their non-verbal expressions (mimic, posture, tone). This ability is especially relevant in longer lasting and complex service-interactions, such as in nursing. Service workers, who correctly estimate the emotional condition of their customers or patients, should be likely to also react appropriately und therefore better respond to the needs of their customers. The previous results (Bechtoldt, Rohrmann, De Pater, & Beersma, 2011) support the hypothesis that emotional perceptiveness seems to buffer the negative consequences of emotion labor; service workers high in emotional perceptiveness report better wellbeing and higher work engagement than service workers low in emotional perceptiveness. Since emotional perceptiveness is trainable, one can directly derive personnel development measures for service workers.

Bechtoldt, M.N., Rohrmann, S., De Pater, I.E. & Beersma, B. (2011). The primacy of perceiving – emotion recognition buffers negative effects of emotional labor. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 1087-1094.