Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Emotional labour dimensions, antecedents, and consequences

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Emotional labour dimensions, antecedents, and consequences:
What are dimensions, antecedents, and consequences of emotional labour?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Put on a happy face!
Figure 2. Paramedics of the Australian Capital Territory Ambulance Service during a training regime.

Emotional labour (EL) is a term used to describe the display of positive emotions and suppression of negative emotions according to organisation norms and the professional role. In order to suppress emotions, people are required to engage in surface acting, deep acting and genuine expression.

Several studies on emotion management at work have concluded that strong emotion norms exist in many professions requiring employees to adjust their displayed expression in the expectation that there will be a negative consequence for failing to comply, such as to be reprimanded or fired (Fisher et al 2004).

The most common reason offered for the expression of appropriate emotion is that it is in the best interest of the organisation. However there must be some other reasoning why – ie personal goals, satisfaction, meaningful purpose, identity, self concept, in which individuals feel comfortable performing this task (Shaw, 2012).

Theories such as emotional dissonance, self determination theory, social Identity theory, expectancy theory and aspects including intrinsic and extrinsic motivation seek to explain the positive and negative implications of emotional labour.

Figure 4. Flight attendants are required to control their emotions despite the situation.

The Dimensions of Emotional Labour - What is emotional labour?[edit | edit source]

Emotional labour involves the use of socially desired emotions such as friendliness and happiness in a persons[grammar?] role of employment such as in helping professions in their interactions with clients and customers. Hochschild (1983) described emotional labour as the way people manage their emotions, who interact frequently with the public such as physician and flight attendants in which one manages their aversive feelings in a way that is both socially acceptable and personally adaptive. Emotional display rules are generally described as a "set of shared, albeit often latent rules" that differ based on organisational or social norms (Hochschild, 1983).

Ashforth and Humphrey (1993) further defined emotional labour as the display of appropriate emotions as more of an outward display of of behaviour rather than an internal management of feelings (Grandey, 2000). This behavioural model focuses more on role effectiveness and job performance and has less of a focus on the impact on the individuals[grammar?] well-being than Hochchild's (1983) theory. Hochschild believed that emotional labour displays have more of an impact on the well-being of the individual in terms of stress[explain?][for example?].

Morris and Feldman (1996) further defined emotional labour from an interactionalist perspective whereby emotions are determined by the social environment (Grandley, 2000). In agreement with Hochschild (1983) theory and that of Ashforth and Humphrey (1993)[grammar?]

Morris and Feldman proposed that there are four parts to emotional labour:

  1. frequency of interactions
  2. attentiveness (intensity of emotions, duration of interaction)
  3. variety of emotions required
  4. emotional dissonance

Emotional labour may be described as an under appreciated form of work in which professionals may be required to show compassion, concern, interest and joy whilst suppressing disgust (Grandey, Foo, Groth and Goodwin, 2012).

Table 1 - Professions that require Emotional Labour[edit | edit source]

Profession Characteristics of Emotional Labour
Nurse/Physician Not supposed to show disgust or shock when presented with blood or an open wound
Flight Attendant Always to be polite and happy despite challenging clients and unnatural conditions
Police Officer Need to act angry or tough to enforce the law displaying negative emotions
Customer Service Assistant Need to handle complaints and difficult clients and remain friendly

Early Theorists[edit | edit source]

Emotions are explained as being a process driven by an experience followed by the interpretation of the experience which then produces an action and lastly a displayed emotion (Kalat & Shiota, 2007).

James Lang Theory

  • Event - Appraisal - Action - Emotional Feeling
  • The James Lang Theory is that the feeling aspect of of the emotion is the combination of body's actions and physiological arousal.
  • According to James Lang Theory, the emotional response begins with one assessing the overall situation and determining the action required.

Cannon-Baard Theory

  • Event Appraisal Action(behaviour and Physiology)Feelings[say what?]
  • The cognitive experience is independent of the other bodily actions in that the physical responses do not contribute to the emotion as they are delayed.

Modern Emotion Theorists[edit | edit source]

More modern theories explain emotion as an experience, which is interpreted through appraisal followed by the chosen emotion and action.

Schachter-Singer Theory

  • proposes that the arousal and other actions that form the emotion will determine how strong the emotion will be but the do not identify the emotion itself.
  • The identification is based on all of the situational information that combine to determine the actual emotion that a person is feeling.

Magda Arnolds Appriasal Theory of Emotion

  • Situation - Appraisal - Emotion - Action
  • The cognitive experience is independent of the other bodily actions in that the physical responses do not contribute to the emotion as they are delayed.

However with these theories in mind, it can be said that the act of emotional labour is more of a cognitive response to a situation, and the personal[spelling?] displaying the acceptable emotion may be feeling some response to the situation but through the use of deep acting,[grammar?] Surface acting they are able to conceal it and respond appropriately to the situation. In the use of emotional labour, the personal is able to choose the response. This takes place in the appraisal phase.

When we look at emotional[grammar?] from a cognitive perspective the impact of the physical responses are less relevant. Whilst there is some biological contribution, the cognitive role is especially important, particularly with the performance of emotional labour. The role of appraisal changes over time and with regard to the specific interaction with the environment[explain?][factual?].

During the appraisal stage, the person relies on memory and imagination to determine the possibilities of whether the stimulus is liked or disliked (Reeve, 2015).


  • Complex Appraisals: Types of Benefit, Harm and Threat
  • A more complex view of appraisal was further developed by Lazarus in which he described the chosen emotion is like to be that which has personal importance for the individual such as if the action is consistent with the persons goals or will be of harm, benefit or threat.
  • The emotion is based on the evaluation and perceived coping strategies which interpret the situation.

Lazarus describes his emotional theory as a cognitive motivational relational model (Reeve, 2015). Lazarus defined the Appraisal stage as having two stages. The first a Primary Appraisal in which the individual decides if they have anything at risk such as health, self-esteem, a goal, a financial state, respect and the well-being of a loved one.

The secondary appraisal occurs after further thought and depends on the individuals[grammar?] ability for coping. For example, if the individual further believes that he/she will be able to endure benefits or be free from harm/threat[grammar?]. Finally, Lazarus described emotion as being dependent on motivation. He theorised that all people bring goals and motives to a situation and furthermore additional appraisals such as goal congruence, novelty, agency and self/norm compatibility[grammar?].

Specifically to emotional labour, it is likely that the individual utilises the four further stages of appraisal[explain?] and is motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically to produce the more socially acceptable emotion despite their true inner emotional response to the event. The emotions used in emotional labour are displayed emotions. They are not innate emotions, they are learned though social conditioning of acceptable workplace behaviors and skills required to be effective in the job. By controlling the appraisal, the negative emotion associated with the event may be reduced. When the emotion for a particular situation is changed, this is called reappraisal (Kalat, Shiota, 2007).

Role of Motivation in Emotional Labour[edit | edit source]

Motivation towards Emotional Labour

Organisational norms require people to perform their job a certain way or they may not keep the job. Therefore the fear of negative consequences if they do not successfully present the desired emotions acts as a motivator. For example, a salesperson will be required to be friendly and smile in order to gain customers and be successful at the job.

Self determination theory proposes that a persons[grammar?] finds having control over their own actions more rewarding than being told what to do and in addition to people having a need for autonomy people will always seek to achieve confidence and skills and a positive connection to other people (Robbins, Judge, Millet & Boyle, 2014).

Felt challenge is a good stressor in that it allows the employee to make a positive assessment of work demands which are determined as opportunities for rewards and growth. To achieve a successful career, people must be able to perform the job well, and that includes displaying the emotion appropriate to the role. This stems from a person's desire for success and fear of failure (Reeve, 2015).

Research into felt challenge has identified that social and financial rewards as well as emotional resources compensates for the effort expended in deep acting (Huang, Chiaburu, Zhang, Li & Grandey, 2015).

Affective Events Theory This model describes that employees react emotionally to things that happen at work and that this may affect their work satisfaction and performance. The work environment, job demands and use of emotional labour are impacted by the employee’s affectivity including personality and mood. People with positive affectivity are people who are usually more optimistic and negative affectivity are those who are more pessimistic. Someone who is high is negative affectivity may respond more strongly to a negative emotional event increasing the likelihood of dissonance (Grandley, 2000).

Generally people want to perform well in order to achieve their goals and feel socially accepted. Some people feel more calm than others or some may become easily agitated. The effect to which an individual experiences affect intensity depends on the differences in personality[explain?].

Other factors such as gender and emotional intelligence also play a role in emotional labour processes. Horchschild (1983) explained emotional labour was particularly challenging for female flight attendants, however Warton (1993) claimed that women who were required to use emotional labour expressed greater job satisfaction than males when in the same roles (Johnson & Spector, 2007). This is likely to be because women are generally better at expressing genuine emotion and when deep acting and likely to experience better outcomes. Women are also more likely to feel satisfied in a job in which they are working with people.[factual?]

Antecedents[edit | edit source]

In some professional roles, specific events require emotional labour/ or a controlled emotional response.[Provide more detail]

Surface Acting and Deep Acting[edit | edit source]

Using Hochschild's (1983) definition of emotional labour process studies, there are two emotional regulation strategies that are performed; surface acting and deep acting. These emotion management techniques are described as the main strategies used by employees to regulate their emotions at work (Gabriel, Daniels, Diefendorff & Greguras, 2015).

Surface Acting is when an employee hides true feelings and smiles and engages in friendly display behaviour, even when they are not in the mood in what is like a 'faking' method. The external emotions portrayed are changed yet internal emotions are felt.

Deep Acting is when the professional individual alters their true feelings based on what is acceptable, such as a nurse trying to feel empathetic towards a patient. The emotions are felt, not just displayed. The employee is required to change their feeling to align with the expectations of the professional role.

A study conducted into the types of emotional labour conducted with a large sample of employees who had direct interaction with customers concluded that surface acting and deep acting can coexist within individuals (demonstrating that both strategies correlate strongly), as well as some individuals in the same roles only use either surface acting or deep acting[factual?][Provide more detail]. The causal factor differentiating the strategy utilised was determined by the individuals[grammar?] perception of the organisational norms (Gabriel, Daniels, Diefendorff & Greguras, 2015)[Provide more detail].

Cognitive Change - Reappraisal[edit | edit source]

This method requires the employee to percieve[spelling?] the situation in a way that is likely to have less of an impact on their emotions (Grandley, 2000). An example of this can be seen in Horchschild's (1983) description of flight attendants who were trained in order to view passe ngers as children so as to control their emotions towards challenging behaviours. As this type of reappraisal is quite strong, internal thought processes see the emotional response as more genuine and therefore less likely to result in emotional dissonance. By altering the perception through cognitive change, the external situation is able to be handled with less emotional labour effort.

Emotional Intelligence[edit | edit source]

The ability to recognise emotions is a key component of emotional intelligence (Bechtoldt, Rohrmann, De Pater, & Beersma, 2011). A person with high emotional intelligence is more able to perform both surface acting and deep acting well through monitoring their own and other emotions, to shape their own behaviour and manage their emotions. Emotional regulation without emotional recognition can be detrimental to both employee and organisation[factual?].

Consequences and Implications - What are the psychological impacts of emotional labour?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Emotional Dissonance[edit | edit source]

Emotional Dissonance was also discussed by Hochschild (1983) as the state that an individual is in when the emotions that are being expressed are different from those felt. Many employees are challenged when they are required to display one emotion when they are feeling something else. Withholding of the true ‘felt emotions’ may have a significant detrimental effect on the individual if the conflicting emotions are not dealt with (Robbins, Judge, Millet, Boyle 2014). This may lead to anger, resentment and even psychological burnout.

Fatigue and exhaustion in conjunction with job dissatisfaction are possible outcomes of emotional dissonance as it is a negative state of being[factual?]. The effect of prolonged suppression of emotions may lead to burnout and stress (Grandley, 2000).

Burnout and Job Dissatisfaction[edit | edit source]

Burnout is the term given to descibe[spelling?] an employee who is experiencing exhaustion and complete emotional depletion which affects their[grammar?] ability to attend work and do their job (Grandey, Foo, Groth and Goodwin, 2012). The burnout experience may be the result of prolonged emotional dissonance and being the target of their client or consumers negative behaviour[factual?].

The high levels of stress required with emotional labour can be harmful to an individuals[grammar?] health[factual?]. With the performance of surface acting and deep acting a person may experience some stress associated with a physiological state of arousal, increased heart rate, breathing, blood pressure etc all associated with emotions and stress and impacting on physical well-being (Grandey, 2000). The management of emotions correlates with cancer and heart disease which make take a toll on an individuals[grammar?] health.

High levels of of deep acting when individuals are also required to engage in high levels of surface acting were found to be harmful to employees, but was beneficial to employees using only low levels of surface acting (Gabriel, Daniels, Diefendorff & Greguras, 2015)[Provide more detail]. There is also suggestion that deep actor experience a sense of well-being when compared to those with little emotional regulation strategies, implying that deep acting may not be of ill effect to the individual[factual?][Provide more detail].

Job satisfaction has been reported as being higher for deep actors when compared to surface actors in Western society, however this may differ between cultures as Asian cultures indicated that job satisfaction was higher in surface actors and non actors[factual?].

Under normal circumstances, if an individual is unhappy with how a situation makes them feel then through emotional regulation they may choose to modify the situation. However, in employment there is a lack of ability to change the situation that is available in usual life and they may need to leave the organisation if they want to attempt to control the situation (Grandley, 2000).

Interpersonal Stressors Surface acting can impact on an individuals[grammar?] personal life due to its likelihood to[grammar?] create anxiety. The two factors in surface acting that may create anxiety in an individual are emotion suppression and emotional dissonance [grammar?]Wagner, Barnes & Scott, 2014). The impact of ongoing anxiety is that other areas of the personal life are generally affected through emotional exhaustion, inability to sleep and conflict in the home. These negative implications make an individual less likely to be able to fully engage in family life and to complete tasks required at work, leading to further personal issues.

Furthermore, spillover effects of unresolved emotional affects also include an impact on the employees[grammar?] spouse and family members. If surface acting employees are able to refrain from sharing negative workplace issues by keeping work life and family life separate, this may reduce the likelihood of contaminating the home environment (Krannitz, Grandey, Liu & Almeida, 2015). THe impact of negative sharing at home also affects the way that the spouse sees the impact of the work on their loved one furthermore increasing possible staff turnover rates and the employees withdrawal from the employment[factual?].

Factors for Psychological Wellbeing[edit | edit source]

As surface acting and deep acting can be a predictor for increased employment stress, strategies to counter the negative effects can be implemented. One of the factors that may alleviate some of the stress associated with emotional labour is job autonomy. Employees with low job autonomy as a result of emotional labour are more likely to experience burnout than employees who have higher job autonomy. A study of 176 participants from customer service roles into the effect of autonomy in the workplace concluded that autonomy emerged as the greatest factor in the relationship between emotional labour and job satisfaction and burnout (Johnson & Spector, 2007)[Provide more detail]. Employees with high levels of autonomy reported to have higher positive affectivity and well-being.

Are you at risk of burnout?[edit | edit source]

Table 2: STRESS SCALE - Calculate your score to see if you are at risk of burnout. Compare scores in Table 3. If you find that you are at risk, see helpful resources in External Links. (Adapted from Mindtools)

Question 0 1 2 3 4 5
I feel rundown and drained of general energy. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I have negative thoughts about my job. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I am harder and less sympathetic with people than they deserve. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I am easily irritated by small problems,or by my coworkers or team. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I feel misunderstood or unappreciated by my coworkers. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I feel that I have noone to talk to. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I feel that I am achieving less than I should. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I feel under an unpleasant level of pressure to succeed. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I feel that I am not getting what I want out of my job. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I feel that I am in the wrong organisation or profession. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I am frustrated with parts of my job. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I feel that organisational politics and bureaucracy frustrate my ability to do a good job. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I feel that there is more work to do than I feel that I have practically have the ability to do. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I feel that I do not have the time to do many of the things that are important to doing a good job. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always
I find that I do not have time to plan as much as I would like to. Never Almost Never Sometimes Often Very often Always

Table 3 - RESULTS

Score Comment
15-18 No sign of burnout here.
19-32 Little sign of burnout, unless some factors are severe
33-49 Be careful - You may be at risk of burnout, particularly if several scores are high.
50-59 You are at sever[spelling?] risk of burnout. Do something about this urgently.
60-75 You are at sever[spelling?] risk of burnout. Do something about this urgently.

See also[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

References[edit | edit source]

Bechtoldt, M.N., Rohrmann, S., Pater, I.E.D., & Beersma, B., (2011) The primacy of percieving: emotion recognition buffers negative effects of emotional labour. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96 (5), 1087-1094, doi: 10.1037/a0023683

Fisher, A.H., Manstead, A.S.R., Evers, C., Timmers, M., & Valk, G., (2004)Motives and norms underlying emotional regulation. The Regulation of Emotion, Philppot, P., & Feldman, R.S., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc, United Staes of America.

Gabriel, A.S., Daniels, M.A., Diendorff, J.M., Greguras, G.J., (2015) Emotional labour actors: a latent profile analysis of emotional labour strategies. Journal of Applied Psychology. 100 (3) 863-879, doi: 10.1037/a0037408

Grandley, A. A., (2000) Emotion regulation in the workplace: a new way to conceptualise emotional labour. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5(1) 95-110, doi 10.1037//1076-8998.5.1.95

Hochschild, A. R., (1983). The managed heart; Commercialisation of human feeling.268, Berkely: University of California Press.

Huang, J.L. Chiaburu, D.S., Zhang, X., Li, N., & Grandey, A.A., (2015) Rising to the challenge: deep acting is more beneficial when tasks are appraised as challenging. Journal of Applied Psychology. 100 (5) 1398-1408, doi: 10.1037/a0038976

Johnson, H.M., & Spector, P.E., (2007) Service with a smile: do emotional intelligence, gender and autonomy moderate the emotional labor process? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12(4) 319-333, doi: 10.1037/1076-8998.12.4.319

Kalat, J.W., Shiota, M.N., (2007), Emotion, Thomson Wadsworth, Canada

Krannitz, M.A., Grandey, A.A., Lie, S., & Almeida, D.A., (2015), Workplace surface acting and marital partner discontent: anxiety and exhaustion spillover mechanisms. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 20 (3), 314-325, doi: 10.1037/a0038763.

Mindtools Burnout Stress Test, taken from

Reeve, J., (2015) Understanding Motivation and Emotion, Wiley, United States

Robbins, P. Judge, T. Millet, B. & Boyle, M., (2014), Organizational behaviour, Pearson, Australia.

Shaw, C., (2012) Emotional Labour; employees and customer experience,

Wagner, D.T., Barnes, C. M., Scott, B.A., (2014), Driving it home: how workplace emotional labour harms employee home life. Personell Psychology, 67, 487-516.

External links[edit | edit source]

Mindtools Stress Test

Watch a video about a University study of emotional labour here.

[also Emotional Intelligence]

[also Emotion Management]

[also Emotional Self Regulation]

[also Work Motivation and Job Satisfaction]