Emotional labor in interactive service roles in Indian restaurants.

AuthorSharma, Anand

Emotional labour is more pronounced in interactive service roles where significant communication is necessarily exchanged as a part of the service delivery. Customer interaction, performed by stewards is an intrinsic component of service delivery in restaurants. The nature of interactions between guests and staff is as critical a determinant in the customer service experience as the food itself. To explore the nature of such interactions, twelve frontline employees (stewards) were interviewed across two restaurants in Ahmedabad (India). Restaurants in India lack formalized training programs on emotional labor. The study propounds a structured and need based training for employees on emotional labor and managing stress to control high attrition and enhance job satisfaction.


The liberalization of the Indian economy has contributed to the expansion of its service sector (Kotwal, Ramaswami & Wadhwa, 2011) and thereby to an increase in work options for restaurant staff (Yadav, 2015). Apart from food, quality of service helps restaurants differentiate themselves from competition. In restaurants, customer service is usually provided by stewards (1) whose work requires them to display courtesy irrespective of customers' behavior. Stewards have to display a limited set of facial expressions at work, irrespective of actual feelings. Therefore, they need to be adept at emotional labor, which refers to the individual's efforts to display only the appropriate emotions through one's behavior (Chu, 2002).

The term "emotional labor" was introduced by Arlie Hochschild (Hochschild, 1983). Emotional labor, as classified by Hochschild (1983), is of two types: surface acting and deep acting. When one expresses an emotion that he/ she is not feeling, it is called surface acting. On the other hand, simulating real feelings by using previous emotional experiences is called deep acting. This concept applies both at the workplace as well as in the personal lives of individuals. Emotional labor has a substantial impact on the dimensions of organizational well-being such as attractiveness of the organization and quality of service (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). The attraction and retention of motivated employees has been identified as one of the key concerns of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) (Nair & Sodhi, 2012), which includes restaurants.

Emotional labor is a comparatively unexplored topic of research in the Indian context (Harini, 2013). Only 1% of studies in this area in India are empirical in nature, as reported by Modekurti-Mahto, Kumar and Raju (2014). Extant studies have focused on academicians (Gaan, 2012); medical representatives (Mishra & Bhatnagar, 2010); call centre employees (D'Cruz & Noronha. 2008) and aircraft employees (Waddar & Aminabhavi, 2012).Other Indian studies have also referred to the role of emotional labor among other frontline employees such as call centre employees (Kumar & Prakash, 2008), teachers in technical institutes (Nayeem & Tripathy, 2012) and air hostesses (Tomar & Dhiman, 2012).The present study extends the research on emotional labor to encompass the Indian hospitality industry. It studies the role emotions play in the performance of interactive work roles in restaurants.

Twelve in-depth interviews of stewards, captains and senior captains working in two different restaurants were conducted. The interview time ranged from 45 to 60 minutes. The staff affirmed the necessity of emotional labor in their work. Interviews suggested that most respondents viewed deep acting to be more useful in their line of work while surface acting was associated with higher stress and lower work satisfaction. The discourse suggested the importance of on-job training in interpreting emotional cues and overall experience in building steward's capacity for deep acting.

The study asserts the need for structured training on emotional labor to stewards, especially on deep acting. Training on emotional labor can help stewards in handling stress situations and reducing burnout. It will also help the stewards in dealing with the customers in amore effectual way. This is expected to lead to higher customer satisfaction and repeated visits. We also expect stewards to develop a greater sense of job satisfaction and reduced turnover intent.

Literature Review

According to Ashforth & Humphrey (1993: 88), "the role of emotion in the workplace has been a constant though often implicit theme in the organizational behavior literature". Ashforth & Humphrey (1993) identified various spheres in which an individual's emotions interact with their work roles, such as decision making (Isen & Baron, 1991), job design (Hackman & Oldham, 1980), physical environment (Sundstrom& Sundstrom, 1986), and service culture (Schneider, 1990). Current research is increasingly emphasizing the importance of emotional labor in interactive service Industries (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Leidner, 1999).

In service transactions, general expectations regarding the appropriate emotional display of individuals tend to get formulated (Hochschild, 1979; 1983 cited in Ashforth& Humphrey, 1993). These expectations, in turn, lead to development of context-specific 'display rules' (Ekman, 1973; Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993) that limit expression of emotions irrespective of the individual's internal state (Rafaeli & Sutton, 1989).

Mann (2004) identified three components of emotional labonfeigning, hiding and managing emotions at the workplace. The two types of emotional labor, described earlier, influence job satisfaction and task effectiveness in different ways. Deep and surface acting have been found to be positively and negatively associated, respectively, with teaching effectiveness (Gaan, 2012). The formulation of standardized display rules that govern the expression of emotions helps employees behave in socially desirable fashion. This standardization helps in improving job performance (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). Conversely, suppressing and mismanaging the emotions, which is associated with surface acting, can lead to work stress and hypertension (Mann, 2004) and burnout (Maslach & Jackson, 1981; Persuad, 2004). Burnout has been associated with low service quality, poor morale and increased turnover (Maslach & Jackson. 1981).Interactive work can also cause emotional exhaustion--"a state of depleted energy caused by excessive emotional demands" (Saxton, Phillips & Blakeney, 1991; Morris & Feldman, 1996). In turn, emotional exhaustion leads to increased withdrawal behavior and reduced productivity (Jackson, Schwab & Schuler, 1986; Cordes & Dougherty, 1993 cited in Morris & Feldman, 1996).

Emotional labor is especially important in interactive service jobs (Leidner, 1999) because of the mismatch between customer expectations and behavior. Customers always expect high-quality service from the staff irrespective of their behavior towards them. The non-physical nature of services provided by the service staff makes it difficult for customers to judge service quality (Augustine & Joseph. 2008).Hence, any deviation of stewards' behavior from expected standards is likely to have ramifications such as increased customer turnover and bad word-of-mouth.

Although emotional labor has positive organizational outcomes in the service industry, sustained differences in displayed and perceived emotions (emotive dissonance) may lead to emotional exhaustion in employees (Hochschild, 1983; Middleton, 1989). Higher the emotive dissonance, higher is the effort expended in displaying emotional labor (Morris & Feldman, 1996).Emotional labor performance has been found to be positively related to work stress (Rutter &amp...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT