How NOT to Do Emotional Labor

A few days ago, one of the higher-ups pulled us all into his office to inform us that a co-worker had passed away. The news wasn’t entirely unexpected. The co-worker in question had been recently diagnosed with inoperable cancer. And yes, we all know the prognosis is not good.

After the meeting, he turned the reins over to the Personnel Director who also believed the higher-up when he said he’d seen an obituary for my coworker (we’ll call him John) that morning.

At that point, the Personnel Director did the usual things. She bought a sympathy card for us to sign, sent a potted plant in a tasteful price range, and… called the grieving widow to give the company’s condolences and ask if there’s anything we can do.

As you might imagine, the grieving widow was in shock, especially considering that John was sitting beside her drinking coffee when she got the call.

As it turns out, John is not that uncommon a name, and the higher-up in question actually, literally did not know his last name.


The Personnel Director, of course, thought the boss knew what he was talking about, and looked up the correct (still-living) John in the files.

Emotional Labor Fail. The intention was good. The execution… I’m cringing, and I’m not even good at emotional labor.

The disaster happened, of course, because someone chose to hand off emotional labor to a second party, instead of doing it, himself.

Yes, if Muckety-Muck had read the obituary, chosen a card, and then looked up the address in the personnel file himself, he probably (okay, well, 70-30 odds, at least) would have noticed that John’s last name is Smith, and not Brown. He could then proceed to not upset everyone and not call the widow wife.

Then, again, he also could have skipped the whole ordeal by learning everyone’s name in the first place.

But what do I know?


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