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Aeon Essays -- The future is emotional: Human jobs in the future will be the ones that require emotional labour: currently undervalued and underpaid but invaluable by Livia Gershon
'...Across the economy, technology is edging human workers into more emotional territory. In retail, Amazon and its imitators are rapidly devouring the market for routine purchases, but to the extent that bricks-and-mortar shops survive, it is because some people prefer chatting with a clerk to clicking buttons. Already, arguments for preserving rural post offices focus less on their services – handled mostly online – than on their value as centres for community social life. -- Historically, we’ve ignored the central role of emotional labour to the detriment of workers and the people they serve. Police officers, for example, spend 80 per cent of their time on ‘service-related functions’, according to George T Patterson, a social work scholar in New York who consults with police departments. Every day, officers arrive at families’ doorsteps to mediate disputes and respond to mental-health crises. Yet training at US police departments focuses almost exclusively on weapons use, defence tactics and criminal law. Predictably, there are regular reports of people calling the police for help with a confused family member who’s wandering in traffic, only to see their loved one shot down in front of them. -- In the sphere of medicine, one of the toughest moments of a physician’s job is sitting with a patient, surveying how a diagnosis will alter the landscape of that patient’s life. That is work no technology can match – unlike surgery, where autonomous robots are learning to perform with superhuman precision. With AI now being developed as a diagnostic tool, doctors have begun thinking about how to complement these automated skills. As a strategic report for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) put it in 2013: ‘The NHS could employ hundreds of thousands of staff with the right technological skills, but without the compassion to care, then we will have failed to meet the needs of patients.’ -- ... It can be hard to wrap our minds around the notion that emotional work really is work. With the very toughest, very worst-paid jobs, like working with the dying and incontinent, that might be because those of us who don’t have to do the work would rather not think about how crucial and difficult it really is. In other settings, often we simply don’t have the professional language to talk about the emotional work we’re doing. Smiling and nodding at a client’s long, rambling story might be the key to signing that big contract, but resumes don’t include a bullet point for ‘tolerates inconsiderate bores’. A lot of the time, emotional labour doesn’t feel like labour. It’s also not hard to see that highly educated, mostly male, people who develop and analyse economic policy have blind spots when it comes to skills concentrated among working-class women. -- Another problem is that the question of how to help low-wage care workers make more money is invariably answered by: ‘give them a better education’. Policy designers talk a lot about ‘professionalising’ direct-care work, advancing proposals for things such as ‘advanced training’ on diabetes or dementia care. Recently, Washington, DC decided to require childcare workers to have a bachelor’s degree – a move one school-district official said would ‘build the profession and set our young children on a positive trajectory for learning and development’. Granted, anyone working with older people with disabilities, or with small children, might benefit from studying research on the particular needs of these groups; and widely accessible college education is a good idea for reasons that go far beyond vocational training. But assuming that more time in the classroom is key to making ‘better’ workers fundamentally disrespects the profound, completely non-academic skills needed to calm a terrified child or maintain composure around a woman playing with her own faeces. -- ... As valuable as formal training in emotional skills might be, it’s not at the heart of what makes people successful in emotional labour. Hochschild noted that ‘surface acting’ – creating the appearance of an appropriate emotion – is harder on workers and less effective than ‘deep acting’ – really summoning up those feelings. Spontaneously expressing genuine, appropriate emotion is, presumably, even better. In 2013, the British sandwich chain Pret A Manger came under fire for using mystery shoppers to ensure that its staff appeared constantly cheery. Service workers, of course, are expected to be friendly toward customers. But Pret A Manger’s secret monitoring of its own staff, to ensure unflagging cheeriness while also depriving them of the wages and working conditions that might encourage actual cheerfulness, came across as cynical and disingenuous. Besides, having to essentially fake an emotional connection can feel exploitative in ways that even the most painful physical labour is not. -- At the other end of the pay scale, David Scales, a doctor at the Cambridge Health Alliance, points out that the current focus on training physicians for empathy misses ‘the glaring deficits in the work environment, which squelch the human empathy that doctors possess’. Facing an endless stream of patients, huge financial pressure to keep visits short, and 80-hour working weeks, doctors can find it impossible to be truly present with the particular person in pain sitting before them. As Bates found in her study of British care girls, Scales suggests looking at the tension between addressing people’s most pressing needs as quickly as possible within an overburdened system and really taking the time to care for them. Having some autonomy, being treated decently and not being overstressed all the time might be the biggest keys to being an effective emotional worker.'
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yesterday by adamcrowe
Why Work? | James Livingston
LAST YEAR WE KEPT HEARING that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were marginal figures of the left and right—over here an avowed socialist, over there a fan of “alt-right” idiocies—and that neither would stand a chance in the general election. It turns out we heard wrong. Each represented the programmatic mainstream of his party as it had evolved in response to Occupy and the Tea Party. And that mainstream was constituted by equal parts nostalgia for “good jobs” and commitment to “full employment,” often sprinkled with a new ingredient, the suspicion and resentment of elites.
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yesterday by mikon_nikon
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