November 01, 2010

Managing Hearts in the Happiest Place on Earth

new sally By Sally Raskoff

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild has published many great books, but The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling remains one of my favorites. In it, she recounts the work of flight attendants and bill collectors (among others) and how they must manage their emotions to effectively do their jobs. Her work set the foundation of the study of emotional labor that has helped us better understand the pressures and demands of service work.

Emotional labor includes actually feeling those emotions, not just ”performing” them. The “feeling rules” are actual norms that guide us to the feeling appropriate for the settings in which we find ourselves.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times recounts the Disney organization’s latest workplace issue involving workplace attire and religious inclusion. Workers are “cast members” and work clothes are “costumes.” Every costume is tied to the workplace locale in the park and the job, thus those who interact with the public don’t just wear the same costume, (costumes differ for the Tomorrowland Star Tours, Fantasyland’s Village Haus Restaurant, or Adventureland Enchanted Tiki Room). Even those who work in contracted work outside the parks are required to wear costumes. image

Disneyland is called “The Happiest Place on Earth,” and maintaining this atmosphere requires significant emotional labor of its employees. Cast members must greet park visitors and maintain the illusion of satisfaction so as to create it. If one attends Disneyland on one’s birthday, one gets a large button to wear. Cast members must greet the birthday person by name (as written on the button) and say Happy Birthday.

A friend and I recently visited Disneyland and my friend wore her birthday button for most of our visit. We both had memories of attending the park when we were younger and saw the workers, er, cast members keeping their emotional labor constant and appropriate. Perhaps as children (and not yet sociologists), we don’t notice when people don’t conform to the norms of their job.

During this recent visit, we both noticed that many workers did not seem to be happy to be working at the Happiest Place on Earth. Indeed, in one workplace, we noticed two cast members taking a break and complaining within earshot about their work frustrations.

These workers were failing at their emotional labor since they were not following the feeling rules set up by their employer. Cast members are supposed to genuinely feel proud to work at the park and ensure that all guests feel just as happy to be there.

Is failing at following the ”feeling rules” better or worse than what happens when one does follow them? If one does adopt the feeling rules of one’s workplace, one can become alienated from one’s own real feelings. Sociologist Erving Goffman might suggest that the back stage behavior (away from the clients, guests, or customers) is a place to alleviate any potential alienation since one is free in that space to vent or complain about the front stage situations. However, Hochschild might point out that when emotional labor is done well, there is no break from the “performance” and one actually does feel the emotions that one has to adopt.

Actors who are good at their craft do indeed feel the emotions of the characters they are playing. However, they are playing those roles in a particular place and time. Flight attendants and Disney cast members are expected to feel the appropriate emotions at work and often take these emotions home with them as well.

What “feeling rules” guide you in the various locations you find yourself?


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I understand that some jobs require a control of emotions but from my perspective it shows a sense of professionalism. Imagine if you spent eighty dollars on a single ticket to Disneyland and all the employees were sad and depressed and were not happy to be there at all. It would take all the fun out of Disneyland! Disneyland is meant to always have a happy and cheerful vibe, that’s the whole point. Have you ever seen a Disney movie where there was not a happy ending? Of course not, that defeats the purpose of what Disney stands for.
Imagine if you spent $350.00 on a flight to New York and as soon as you got on the plane the attendant acted like she was doing you a favor by giving you a cup of water. That would not be acceptable in society or by any independent person. You are paying her, as part of the flight plan, to put on a smile and pretend to care about your needs. That is her job as a flight attendant, and yours as a passenger is to treat her with the respect she deserves.
I understand that this type of a job could affect people’s individual emotions and behavior, but if someone is in a job like this they need to be able to differentiate and distinguish which emotion is fitting for each environment. Playing with your emotions is difficult but if someone is interested in the job, it is definitely required.

I went to Disney world with my class my Freshman year of high School and we got to go 'backstage'. Let me say that it ruined it. Imagine seeing Mickey Mouse walking around without his head on, talking on his cell phone. I think that maintaining a positive attitude around the clock is very difficult. I also think that teachers in school may face this problem at one time or another. I can't imagine trying to be a constantly good role model, never saying anything that could be taken the wrong way, always trying to be really would be a nightmare.

Many jobs, not just Disney jobs require people to put on an act which they may or may not be comfortable with. I agree that Disneyland is a place where all the characters need to be cheerful and nice to any customers walking around the park, however, i believe that breaks are necessary. Although the attitude presented while in costume should be srong and positive, and this can carry out to one's attitude outside of the workplace, people cannot go around acting like snoopy or cinderella all the time. Any work is a place where individual needs need to be put aside and that particular job needs to be done. I also agree that complaining and other such things should be done outside of the work area so that people spending the money to be at the park do not have to hear it. Also, if someone is complaining about their job, is that a very good job to have? Disney characters need to be able to have a very positive attitude in order to accomplish each and every workday.

I can completely relate to this article. I too work in an environment that requires a cheerful and positive attitude. I am a sales associate at the retail store, American Eagle. The job I perform involves extensive and unavoidable customer interaction. During times like back to school and Christmas, where hundreds of customers visit the store each hour, many of the people are tired and exhausted, and inevitably difficult to deal with. It is important that everyone on the sales floor receives breaks; it is what allows us to run smoothly as a sales team. Even just a fifteen minute break can make a world of difference. The sales team is much like a family, we all spend large amounts of time together and are faced with problems that we as a whole, must overcome. No matter what the job is, it is important that the job is being done, the employee must put aside all outside issues and focus on the job at hand. There have been many times that I am upset about something when going into work, and I have to take a minute to relax and focus on the job I am about to do. Many times this actually causes me to develop a better attitude and actually leave in a better mood than what I started with.

I have experienced the strangely happy atmosphere of Disney world and I wonder how they maintain it. There was a lot of collective behavior there, everyone was always smiling and there was always music in the background. the more I think about it, the more I realize that the atmosphere at Disney actually controls people. there is a group mentality of 'We are here to have fun' there.

quite a touching post
thanks for writing it :)

I can understand this article for I use to work at Sixflags Kentucky Kingdom. Before I the took the postion as a hostess I was fully aware of how important we need to make the vistors feel special. From the first day I was introduced to emotional labor just in different words. Sometimes the job can be a bit too much because some days you may not feel bad either emotionally or physically. But you to set aside how you feel to do the job. That can a challenge. Breaks at a job like that can be very worth it having.

If you love your work , then the heart has a place to feel present in a everyday setting, meaning stress levels are low , work environment is good, family is better because of the outward emotion put into work pour into the home .

Also using the location-tracking, Disney is able to identify busy locations ... response to different experiences through heart beat, activity level, etc.

I will carefully read the issues you just shared, I find there are some places that are not very clear

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