Barista Burden

Emotional labor occurs when a person must behave in a way that does not match with how he or she is feeling at that moment, and the service industry as a whole demands a high level of emotional labor (Grandey, 2000). While the hourly wage is compensation for the physical and mental demands of the job, the tip income could be considered compensation for the emotional demands of the job (Bernson, 2013). This makes it necessary for a barista to continuously manage their emotions to consistently express an appropriate demeanor for their environment if they are to earn a livable wage. Research in emotional regulation has shown that when people actively amplify or suppress what they are feeling in a situation, they are put under emotive dissonance and cognitive strain that can lead to negative long-term effects (Grandey, 2000). People in dissonance struggle with the reality of being incongruent with their perceived self (Grandey & Gabriel, 2015), and overtime, this can lead to chronic stress and related illnesses (Woolston, 2018), and many cafes do not offer health insurance to their workforce (Bernson, 2013); so, many baristas must deny their own healthcare if they can’t afford to pay out of pocket.

The usual options for resolving dissonance are to modify the situation, modify the perception of the situation, or modify the expression of the emotions about the situation (Gross, 1998). Baristas can rarely modify their situation during a stressful shift, because they must be on display to work. Instead, they must either modify their perception of the situation itself or their emotional expression during the situation. When an individual modifies their emotional expression only, they are involved in what Hochschild termed surface-acting (as cited in Grandey, 2000). While there are individual differences that affect the toll and success of surface-acting, it has been shown to relate to lower job satisfaction among workers, and higher instances of employee burnout (Grandey & Gabriel, 2015). Due to the sheer volume of guest interactions, the best option for baristas is to modify their perception of the situation. This is what Hochschild termed deep-acting (as cited in Grandey, 2000), which involves cognitive function that can reduce the salience of the emotion, and thus the strain of the emotional labor. The process of deep-acting is complex, and measurements can be confounded by individual motivation states, but deep acting has been shown to relate to increases in job satisfaction and does not appear to affect employee burnout one way or another (Grandey & Gabriel, 2015).

With many guests seeing the same baristas daily, it is relatively easy to spot surface-acting, and the guest experience could suffer as a result. For the barista to achieve the highest levels of service excellence and income, it is necessary to provide them with structural support for emotional labor and perception management to develop their capacity for maintaining the long-term emotional regulation required by their role. Aque (2007) reflects that perception is not a constant, fixed truth, but rather a set of fixed elements within a system of changing elements that individuals use to decide what is true in the moment. Thus, perception could theoretically be managed through the maintenance of discursive-structures as well, potentially creating a positive reinforcing feedback loop between individual-level perception and organization-level culture that starts with attending to how the baristas make meaning while working at the cafe.


Aque, C. (2007). Perception. The University of Chicago.
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Bernson, A. (2013, Jan. 9). Real talk: Barista health in the workplace – Part two. Sprudge.
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Grandey, A. A. (2000). Emotion regulation in the workplace: A new way to conceptualize emotional labor. Journal of
Occupational Health Psychology, 5
(1). 95-110. doi: 0.1037//1076-8998.S.1.9S

Grandey, A. A. & Gabriel, A. S. (2015). Emotional labor at a crossroads: Where do we go from here? Annual Review of
Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 2
. 323-349.

Gross, J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3). 271-299.

Woolston, C. (2018, March 30). Barista’s burden. Knowable Magazine.
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