An Ethical Analysis of Emotional Labor

Journal of Business Ethics 160 (1):17-34 (2019)
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Abstract

Our understanding of emotional labor, while conceptually and empirically substantial, is normatively impoverished: very little has been said or written expressly about its ethical dimensions or ramifications. Emotional labor refers to efforts undertaken by employees to make their private feelings and/or public emotion displays consistent with job and organizational requirements. We formally define emotional labor, briefly summarize research in organizational behavior and social psychology on the causes and consequences of emotional labor, and present a normative analysis of its moral limits focused on conditional rights and duties of employers and employees. Our focus is on three points of conflict involving rights and duties as they apply to the performance of emotional labor: when employees’ and organizations’ rights conflict, when employees’ rights conflict with their duties, and when organizations’ rights conflict with their duties. We discuss implications for future inquiry as well as managerial practice.

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