Here are some of the ways that the term emotional labor has recently been defined:
In The New York Times: “The duties that are expected of you, but go unnoticed.”
In a guide to emotional labor for men, in Mel Magazine: “Free, invisible work women do to keep track of the little things in life that, taken together, amount to the big things in life: the glue that holds households, and by extension, proper society, together.”
And, most prominently, in a new book by Gemma Hartley, titled Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward, based on her viral Harper’s Bazaar article of last year:
Emotional labor, as I define it, is emotion management and life management combined. It is the unpaid, invisible work we do to keep those around us comfortable and happy. It envelops many other terms associated with the type of care-based labor I described in my article: emotion work, the mental load, mental burden, domestic management, clerical labor, invisible labor.
The term hasn’t always been used this way. It was first coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her 1983 book on the topic, The Managed Heart. Emotional labor, as she conceived it, referred to the work of managing one’s own emotions that was required by certain professions. Flight attendants, who are expected to smile and be friendly even in stressful situations, are the canonical example. In recent years, the term’s popularity has grown immensely—Google searches for it are up, and it’s being mentioned more and more in books and academic articles.