When Emotion Work Is Doomed to Fail: Ideological and Structural Constraints on Emotion Management

Document Type


Publication Date



This paper explores how workers try to manage their emotions under conditions that doom them to fail. The workers in question - floor instructors at a sheltered workshop for people with developmental disabilities - were expected to infuse clients with positive feelings about work and to help transform them into committed workers. But structural conditions - boring, poorly paid assembly work and long gaps between contract jobs - forced them to obtain clients' compliance through coercive and confrontational emotion management techniques that contradicted their ideological beliefs. The floor instructors sought to peacefully increase their control over clients through "preventive emotion management" but most often they experienced a loss of control, leading some of them to experience "burnout. " This paper defines burnout as "occupational emotional deviance" that workers experience when they cannot manage their own and other's emotions according to organizational expectations.