Hargrove also has to deal with the expectations of clients who believe – sometimes unrealistically – that if they have been wronged, justice will prevail. She understands their feelings, even as she has to set them straight.
“I empathise here, as a parent, with their thought that there should be a remedy, even when I know it’s not going to be achievable. It helps me that this feeling is also true to me.”
Remaining true to your feelings appears to be key – numerous studies show those who report regularly having to display emotions at work that conflict with their own feelings are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion.
Of course, everybody needs to be professional at work and handling difficult clients and colleagues is often just part of the job. But what’s clear is that putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand their position is ultimately of greater benefit to your own well-being than voicing sentiments that, deep down, you don’t believe.
Leonard says there are steps individuals and organisations can take to prevent burnout. Limiting overtime, taking regular breaks and tackling conflict with colleagues through the right channels early on can help, she says, as can staying healthy and having a fulfilling life outside work. A “climate of authenticity” at work can be beneficial.
“Organisations which allow people to take a break from high levels of emotional regulation and acknowledge their true feelings with understanding and non-judgemental colleagues behind the scenes tend to fare better in the face of these demands,” she says.
Such a climate can also foster better empathy, she adds, by allowing workers to maintain emotional separation from those with whom they must interact.
Where it is possible, workers should be truly empathetic, be aware of the impact the interaction is having on them and try to communicate in an authentic way. This, she says, can “protect you from communicating in a disingenuous manner and then feeling exhausted by your efforts and resentful of having to fake it”.
This article was updated to amend the spelling of sociologist, Arlie Hochschild's name.
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