My interest in ‘emotion work’ developed from my experience of customer service work in my early professional life where I held supervisory and management roles within the hospitality and retail sectors. There I experienced the uplifts and emotional challenges of working in front line service and observed how others applied their interpersonal skills in varied and complex social situations.
My current PhD research explores the factors affecting the emotional self-management of customer facing agents within the increasingly challenging environments of healthcare and airline service work. It builds upon findings from his previous study into the emotional demands upon airline cabin crew which suggested that intensifying job demands and deteriorating working conditions were increasing the alienating psychological costs of their work.
My research adopts an interdisciplinary approach drawing upon the unique, personal stories of individuals within one of the ‘caring’ professions and another more traditionally perceived ‘service’ occupation. It explores the emotional dynamics in agent-to-agent and agent-to-recipient relationships and how the idiographic experiences of emotional self-management may influence service workers’ perceptions of their well-being. My research approach adopts the still novel qualitative methodology, interpretative phenomenological analysis (‘IPA’) which I have chosen because of its emphasis upon gathering experiential data from a first person viewpoint. I envisage that the study will contribute to contextual and theoretical understanding, offering fresh insights into emotional experiences at work and how these may influence workers’ socially constructed sense of selves and their well-being. Mine is one of very few studies which emphasise idiographic contexts within the broader patterns of worker–customer relations and, in doing so, transcends the traditionally delineated occupational boundaries of nursing and commercial service work.