Posts Tagged ‘burnout’

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The entrance of emotion into considerations of work and organisations has occurred alongside other significant developments concerning the expansion of the service sector, growing competition among service providers, significant proportion of manufacturing jobs that rely heavily on contacts with customers and outside suppliers, the ‘feminisation’ of local labour markets and increased recognition which has been given to customer relations as a vital part of competitiveness. This has led to a greater need to focus on the expression of desired emotions in the service and other encounters and has placed emotional labour at the forefront. These debates have raised complex issues concerning the identity of emotional labourers, the ways in which emotional labour and emotion work is performed and how it is bought and sold in the market. In other words, these themes relate in different ways to the identity, performance and commodification of emotional labour. According to Hochschild (1983), emotional labour (hereinafter: EL) is the expression of organisationally desired emotions. Emotional labor may involve enhancing, faking, or suppressing emotions to modify the emotional expression (Grandey, 2000).

Dimensions of EL

Morris & Feldman (1996) conceptualized EL in terms of 4 dimensions: frequency of appropriate emotional display, attentiveness to required display rules, variety of emotions to be displayed and emotional dissonance (generated by having to express organizationally desired emotions not genuinely felt).

Frequency of appropriate emotional display refers to the fact that stakeholders are more likely to do business with the organization, when the bonds of liking, trust and respect have been established through employee behaviour. Additionally, the more often a work role requires socially appropriate emotional displays, the greater organization’s demands for regulated displays of emotions. The second dimension of EL is attentiveness to required display rules. More attentiveness to required display rules demands more psychological energy and effort, and consequently more EL. Duration and intensity of emotional display are positively correlated. Longer interactions with clients lead to higher levels of burnout (e.g. long-haul passenger flights). Intensity of ED determines whether clients change their behaviour during service interactions (deep acting vs. surface acting – Hochschild). Thirdly, the greater is the variety of emotions to be displayed, the greater the amount of EL is expected. Middleton (1989) defines emotional dissonance as a conflict between genuinely felt emotions and emotions that are required to be displayed in organizations.


Emotional labour may exert positive and negative outcomes. Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) suggest that it may facilitate task effectiveness (by regulating interaction and removing personal problems) and self-expression (allowing oneself  to “act out”). On the other hand, it may give rise to expectations of good service that cannot be met, trigger emotive dissonance and impair one’s sense of authentic self (the so-called self-alienation).  Hochschild also mentions drug and alcohol abuse, absenteeism and eventual alienation from one’s genuine feelings. Adelman (1989) states that jobs requiring high amounts of EL are reported to result in significantly lower job satisfaction, lower self-esteem, poorer health and more depressive symptoms. Erickson (1991) indicates that the effect of EL on well-being depends on job autonomy (the greater autonomy, the lower the negative effects of EL).

Thus, organisations should provide adequate support to their employees in order to prevent burnout, withdrawal and negative work attitudes and at the same time boost their work performance. At an organisational level, the aim is to provide employees with means to help them cope with effects of stressful conditions (if/when they face them), e.g. through employee assistance programmes. Another way of dealing with this is reactive, by redesigning of working environment to reduce or get rid of stressors. Employees themselves may tackle this issue by using stress management techniques or by changing their working environment.

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