Leaving education and joining the workforce is supposed to be fun. Graduates finally get to show off their hard-earned skills in the “real world”, and getting paid for the first time is something of a thrill.

However, a lot of first-time employees develop an unhealthy relationship with work and find that their work-life quickly overruns their personal time or invades their thoughts even when they’re supposed to be enjoying time away from work.

This is because most young workers don’t understand the burden of emotional labour and haven’t been taught how to set appropriate boundaries to support their mental health and overall wellbeing.

So, here are a few things every student should know about emotional labour before entering the workforce.

What is Emotional Labour?

Emotional labour is a confusing topic for new employees. After all, everyone has to control their emotions in day-to-day life, and managing your response to stressful events is a part of being a good citizen.

However, emotional labour refers to work-related interactions that employees have with their peers, customers, patients, or bosses. Fields like nursing, teaching, and customer support are heavily reliant upon emotional labour, as these careers require workers to manage their feelings and respond appropriately to stressful situations.

Unfortunately, emotional labour can harm workers. This is particularly true for new employees, who don’t have experience with setting boundaries and compartmentalizing just yet. Too much emotional labour can cause mental health issues, and lead to conditions like depression, burnout, fatigue, and imposter syndrome. 

Finding a Positive Workplace

The best way to avoid excess emotional labour is to plan ahead and research potential employers before signing on the dotted line. Too often, recent graduates accept their first offer and rush into the workforce without doing their due diligence. Instead, students who are looking to enter the workforce should thoroughly research any company that offers them a position. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Pay attention to prospective employers’ language choice in job descriptions and personal communication — rushed or error-filled writing is a red flag.
  • Ask questions in the interview, and try to get spontaneous answers. Interviewers that seem helpful and caring reflect a positive, caring workplace.
  • Read online reviews, but take them with a grain of salt. Disgruntled former employees like to leave reviews on sites like Glassdoor, so read between the lines when assessing cultural fit.

When looking for a positive workplace, folks must remember their value in the job market as recently trained graduates. Highly skilled students at the start of their careers are also in a great position to start their own businesses and create positive working environments. Entrepreneurial students should set clear goals and create support programs that are designed to uplift employees and help them set clear work boundaries. 

How to Set Work Boundaries

Learning to set clear boundaries is one of life’s most important lessons. Students who are entering the workforce are extremely likely to overcommit their time and stretch themselves far too thin. This makes emotional labour hard to manage and can result in burnout or outbursts of emotion.

First-time employees can set healthy work boundaries by developing interests outside of their careers and creating a strict daily routine. Ideally, these interests should promote well-being and shouldn’t be related to work. For example, rather than giving up on exercise when entering the workforce, young employees can join local sports teams or exercise groups that practice or train after working hours. This will help young employees resist the temptation to work unpaid overtime, and will give new workers a chance to decompress after a busy day.

Setting clear boundaries also involves clear communication while at work. Most employers and peers respect boundaries, but students entering the workforce should be prepared to meet folks who test their professional boundaries. When this happens, young employees need to practice saying “no” and prioritising their own well-being. It may feel awkward at first, but maintaining strict professional boundaries is a great way to avoid emotional overload.

Moving On

Sometimes roles and workplaces just don’t live up to our expectations. This can be a strange feeling for young employees, who often have an optimistic mindset and have worked hard to secure their first position. This leads many first-time employees to stay in a role that doesn’t suit them and suffer through excessive emotional labour due to feelings of guilt or confusion.

If the emotional labour associated with a role is overwhelming, young employees should speak to their managers and seek a solution to their work-related stress. If this doesn’t solve things, it is ok to move on and seek new employment in a different industry or field.

Conclusion

Emotional labour doesn’t get enough attention during work training and education. However, graduates need to be aware of the emotional strain that may occur during their career and should learn to set clear boundaries to mitigate stress, prevent burnout, and ensure their first position in the workforce is a success.