Monday 13th July 2015
“Emotional Labour” ruining lives and
costing the nation billions – research
A type of workplace stress known as ‘emotional labour’ is taking its toll on the health of workers such as nurses, police and customer service employees. It is also costing the nation billions of dollars a year in lost productivity, according to researchers at the University of Sydney Business School.
The researchers in School’s Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies, say that workers in jobs that involve high levels of emotional labour are absent, require treatment for stress related disorders and change jobs more frequently than other workers.
Emotional labour, explained Dr Helena Nguyen, is the emotional effort some employees must make when interacting with customers, clients or patients. “For example, there is an expectation that nurses show care and empathy when they are interacting with patients.”
High levels of emotional labour, adds Dr Anya Johnson, “leaves the worker suffering from stress, the feeling that they need to take days off work and often the feeling that they are not being effective at work. This can be very detrimental to their well-being.”
Employee absenteeism and ‘presenteeism’ or being at work but not fully functioning, is costing Australian businesses an estimated 12 billion dollars a year.
“In general, absenteeism indicates a drop in wellbeing as workers become demotivated, disengaged and burnt out. In particular, it has been identified as a key long term consequence of emotional labour in areas such as sales, management, health care and law enforcement.” Dr Johnson and Dr Nguyen say in a report on their 10 year study.
“For organisations it means replacing employees who are not well and also dealing with people who are off on stress leave, which can often be very expensive,” said Dr Johnson. “For the economy, it means that people are not staying in their professions, it means that people are moving in and out of professions. The sustainability of the workforce become compromised.”
The report says workers typically deal with emotional labour in one of two ways.
The first is to put on a “happy face” or outwardly display an emotion that matches requirements while privately feeling something very different. The second response is to try to actually feel the appropriate emotion.
Nurses who put on a happy face reported lower job satisfaction, poorer task performance, more often declared an intention to leave a job and talked of being burnt out.
The report by Dr Johnson and Dr Nguyen says their study has important implications for health care managers, “as there are significant costs associated with emotional labour as it drains limited resources and impairs employee well-being”.
“Developing opportunities and support to help nurses and other employees in high stress positions to manage their emotional labour are needed,” the researchers conclude.