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2 weeks ago

Serving Others in your Day-to-Day: What It Really Means and a Wake-up Call


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Serving others is an emotional labor. This social interaction process can be learned and improved with time and practice, and has nothing to do with suppress emotions. Discover the virtue, beauty, even joy, behind this gentle labor.

This scenario is familiar to us all: You arrive at a café with an unbeatable atmosphere—the welcoming aromas when you enter, the right lighting, comfortable chairs for reading or working, design details that affirm a true caring that your experience be unique.

You order your coffee. Sadly, you notice from the first interaction that your barista is not in a great mood. It seems as if they take for granted that this new place will always have plenty of customers who want to “experience” the novelty and freshness of their space and offering. 

They prepare you a coffee that, had it been served with a smile, would have been exceptionally good. But not today. Today the coffee tasted mediocre, because of how it was served.

You consider coming back again, but when you see that the server expects a good tip, you resolve not to.

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What happened here? The barista is having a bad day, that’s plain to see. 

Emotional Labor: How to Serve Others

Remind yourself that we all have bad days. We actually have a right to have them!

But there are some jobs where a positive attitude is required for them to be done effectively. People who have to interact with clients constantly, such as flight attendants, those who work in customer relations and those in the hospitality industry, do not escape this. 

It certainly is true for waitstaff, baristas and – of course – bartenders. Our day-to-day definitely includes a component of emotional labor!

Emotional labor, coined by sociologist and emeritus professor at the University of California Berkley, Arlie Russel Hocshild, refers to the often invisible and often undervalued labor of making others feel comfortable, or even happy. 

But a quick internet search gives us a different point of view of the concept of emotional labor. Quotes and articles addressing this type of labor also define it as: “having to hide or fake emotions at work” or “when someone is required to adapt or suppress their emotions to suit a certain work environment.”

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Upon further investigation, we find more information referring to the tendency to feel resentment as a result of this labor, which adds an interesting perspective. 

While it’s true that constant interface with clients in the work environment requires that we manage our own emotions, something that Russell recognizes as a “social interaction process,” which can be learned and improved with time and practice, we do not agree that in general it’s about trying to fake or suppress real emotions.

This would imply that emotional labor is based on negative practices, which of course it is not. 

Crisis in Service: Find Ways to Serve Others

These days, many economies, especially those of high-income countries, are experiencing a crisis in service. This is felt particularly in the hospitality industry.

There is now a general resistance to the idea of having to “serve” others. This has been exacerbated in countries where the government (economy and market) has provided resources (financial support) to help mitigate the widespread unemployment resulting from massive business closings.

We do not want to be reductionists—there are many important related topics to discuss when it comes to the challenges in the workplaces where emotional labor is practiced and required, like achieving diversity and inclusion – and of course equality – in the workplace.

Leadership that addresses these important matters and offers clear guidance for different situations and provides policies and practices that emphasize employee well-being is key......And it is important not to overlook another aspect of our situation.  

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What Does it Mean to Serve Others

The pandemic has left many of us hurting and feeling like we are waking up from a long bad dream, and it is also true that it has brought us many lessons. We are at a pivotal moment where our industry can return to its root value: service. What does it mean to serve others?

There is virtue, beauty, even joy, in serving others. Our job has the potential for a very positive impact on others—especially in times of crisis.

We don’t deny the challenges of the workplace, nor dare to enter the ongoing debate over the value of our labor in these uncertain times.

But it is also true that bearing in mind what inspired us in the first place to work behind the bar can help us in a tangible way not only to survive some of the daily challenges, but also to rise above them successfully.

And if all of this doesn’t convince you, it is also proven that a person who is inclined to serve also has the propensity to be a good leader. These people instinctively consider others’ feelings and needs in their decision-making process, and in turn reflect these in the actions they take. 

The situation is complex, the current pandemic world is complex, but having a job that requires daily actions based on kindness and love puts us in the remarkable position of reaching and impacting others.

This emotional labor can change the perception of the complexities we are all living, softening the focus. And beyond the bar, this kind of labor can further inspire us to take more active roles and leadership in our places of work, in the communities where we live, and throughout this industry that we love.

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