Commercialization of Human Feeling

Drawing on concepts from Chapter 1 in our text, Organizations and Organizing, I would like to draw attention to a specific topic Scott and Davis address.  The two authors cite information on the “commercialization of human feeling” (found on page 4-5 of the text).  This idea has had an increasing importance with the dominance of the service economy.  Salespeople, flight attendants, and waitresses are among many occupations who have been victims to commercialization of human feelings, which derives from organizational structuring and its damaging effects.  “Alienation, overconformity, and stunting of normal personality development” are just a few examples of negative effects that result from the structuring and rationalizing of organizations. Flight attendants are expected to carry a smile on their face at all times, no matter what the circumstances may be.  Similarly, salespeople are also expected to be very outgoing, friendly, and forceful, regardless of how they are really feeling.  As the text suggests, can masking your true feelings have negative or harmful effects?  Or is it simply just a task that people accept when they enter into particular service occupations?

After reading select chapters of Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed it was apparent how the commercialization of human feeling played out.  In a particular selection I read, Ehrenreich took a job as a waitress in Florida.  Though she was exhausted, poorly nourished, and unhappy, she was forced to put a smile on her face in order to make money to survive.  This is a fairly easy concept for anyone to understand, whether they have served as a waitress or not.  When we go out to eat, whether it’s a fancy establishment or a fast food chain, we except friendly and accommodating service.  Frowning, unenthusiastic, rude servers reflect on the entire establishment and determine whether customers will come back again, along with how much they may tip.  Back to the question posed at the end of the previous paragraph, did Ehrenreich’s false display of emotions harm her?  To an extent I believe it did.  Forcing happiness leads her to greater frustration and anger after work.  Her personality outside of work became almost synonymous to her personality at work.

Although Ehrenreich’s job at Wal-Mart was in retail and not a service job, there was still a strong sense of commercialization of human feeling.  Her tasks were monotonous and she was overly structured according to the “Wal-Mart ways”.  Her mind-numbing tasks of sorting and hanging clothes left her tired and frustrated with the system.  As she states, “What my life holds is carts-full ones, then empty ones, then full ones again” (p. 186).  She was also instructed to act in accordance to the Wal-Mart philosophy and the three pillars: “service, excellence (or something like that), and she can’t remember the third” (p.125).  Once again we must ask, did this affect her outside life?  Clearly everyone’s job will affect their life, but is it possible to say that low-income jobs, whether they are service, retail, etc., have a stronger affect on one’s outside life and personality than those of high-income jobs?

Answering the previously asked question, I would have to say that both sides are equally represented when it comes to the influence of their occupation.  However, I can say with confidence, that low-income jobs often affect a person in a negative way.  To say that commercialization of human feelings stunts normal personal development seems too extreme of a consequence.  Sure frustrations, or on the opposite side praise and happiness, from work relay into how you act and feel afterwards, but I don’t believe that it would stunt one’s development.  I believe that for someone to be truly unhappy or miserable that they must at one point have been happy, because they must have something to compare their current status to.  Drawing from the roots of commercialized human feelings, structured organizations in a low-income world mean small, repetitive tasks, and these tasks lead to frustration, boredom, or unhappiness (or all three!) and contribute to outside afflictions.  To conclude, masking true feelings and being forced into an overly structured organization can cause work personality to trickle into normal personality.  We find this issue (with negative effects) especially in low-income jobs.  It is important for employers to create a better working environment in order to avoid this problem.  Otherwise, they will have to suffer the consequences of a less productive, bored employee.


4 Responses

  1. I agree with the idea that a person’s personality, if forced into being happy will affect the way they act when they are not working. To have to be “forced” to be polite and upbeat at a job that you are not enjoying can be extremely draining on an individual and will may result in them being extremely unhappy when they are at home, a place that they should be happy being at. Beth Shulman wrote a book titled “The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans and Their Families” she talks about how the low wage American is just looking for incentives and higher wages, many low wage jobs are not meant as stepping ladders to bigger and brighter things as Shulman staes, how by providing health care, and being flexible with family obligations as well as increasing the pay that most low wage jobs offer, in order for families to survive, can help to increase the happiness in an individual and could create people who do not feel “forced” to be happy on the job but are genuinely glad to be working.

  2. there is a great book on this topic called Fast Food, Fast Talk. I’ll see if I can get it to you.

  3. I do not completely agree that commercialized feeling at work affect a person’s feeling outside of work. I do not believe the lady at McDonalds who smiles when she serves Happy Meals, and the Ronald McDonald who stands welcoming people into the restaurant only goes home to feel upset. In fact, I believe that in someway having a job that makes you optimistic may put you a better mood when you get home. It makes you look at the brighter things. I do think though if you dislike serving happy meals, and you don’t really want to dress up as a guy in a yellow and red costume with a huge head…then it doesn’t matter if you’re told to act happy or sad …you’re going to go home to feel miserable. I’m not even sure if it matters really how much pay your getting; if you don’t like your jobs money can sometimes be irrelevant. All in all, it comes down to liking your job in total.

  4. Comparing low and high turnover firms in the same sector would be interesting, like Costco vs Sam’s Club. Is work structured differently? How much does relative pay improve morale?

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