The well-being of workers in all walks of life continues to be a topic of discussion and is not going anywhere. A lot has changed since the COVID pandemic, and more emphasis now has been put on the topic.
The Department of Social Science’s Master of Public Administration program recently brought in Mary Guy, PhD, to talk about the topic. Guy, a distinguished professor at the University of Colorado Denver, has written widely about emotional labor in public service, especially in regard to emotionally intense work demands.
Emotional labor has two components – emotional intelligence, which is understanding our own emotions, and emotional work, which is how we can provide a better public service by understanding emotional labor.
Wesley Meares, PhD, MPA director in Pamplin College of the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, said many times these job responsibilities don’t fall into the job description but need to be taken into consideration.
“We need to really think about it holistically, especially in terms of public service,” said Meares. “It’s not only our cognitive skills that we bring in, physical skills but also our emotional skills as well. When we clock in, we’re not just taking in our mind, we’re clocking in our emotions as well.”
He added Guy’s discussion brought real-life experiences that struck a chord with those in attendance.
“I think the biggest takeaway was to start realizing we do bring our emotions with us when we go to work. Some of our students are in service jobs, and we need to start talking about this and how do we start raising this to more importance,” Meares said.
Guy’s research looked at service workers in correctional institutions, correctional officers, 911 operators and even family service entities, not only in the United States, but internationally as well. There can be a lot of stress in these jobs, and many times the emotional toll, regardless of job satisfaction, can lead to burnout. The question becomes how is the burnout prevented?
She suggests organizations need to cultivate a culture in which emotional labor is not only recognized as a service going out, but how employees are helped and supported to bring their best emotions forward.
The MPA program holds the town and gown events yearly and tries to keep them relevant to what is happening in the area and in the world. In the past, there’s been a speaker on election administration, on how the movie industry in Augusta brings more jobs than one may think and on how confidence is waning in public service. Meares said it’s important to find the salient issues and get the students and community involved.
“I think it does help the students get that perspective from some different experts. We don’t always bring in academics, sometimes we bring in service people, but to get those perspectives is important and can have a lasting impact.”