Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

How Emotional Labor and Ethical Leadership Affect Job Engagement for Chinese Public Servants

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

How Emotional Labor and Ethical Leadership Affect Job Engagement for Chinese Public Servants

Article excerpt

Workers at the street level are the hands, face, and feet, of government. To citizens, they embody the State, how it is run and how it performs. Around the globe, three components of government performance are leadership, trust, and service-minded responsiveness to citizens. For example, the literature is replete with studies that emphasize this in the United States as well as the Netherlands (Bakker & Heuven, 2006), Hong Kong (Luk, 2012), China (Ko & Han, 2013), and worldwide (United Nations, 2008). The case of China is particularly interesting because of the government's recent intense interest in improving human resource procedures and policies for public workers.

Modern China is undergoing a profound transition in its institutions. Public service plays a vital role in China's development, and changes have been underway for the past 20 years to improve government's human resource systems. A formal civil service system was adopted in 1993, and there are strategic efforts underway to transform demoralized organizational cultures (Ko & Han, 2013) and to emphasize ethics (West, Beh, & Sabharwal, 2013). For example, an important document on government performance, The Report of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (2012), specifically recommends improvements in government agencies to enhance the nation's economic and social development. To this end, public workers' salaries have increased, but management expects more responsiveness in exchange. For this reason, a study of Chinese workers in regard to their levels of emotional labor, job engagement, and quality of leadership will provide insight into variables that influence worker performance.

This study proceeds as follows: First, we explain the theoretical framework for the investigation, then the research design and analysis are presented, followed by the findings. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications for government performance in China and speculation about generalizing these findings to other cultural contexts.

Theoretical Background and Hypotheses

This study extends previous research in two ways: First, much of the previous research on emotional labor has focused on singular outcomes, either in terms of job satisfaction or burnout (Glomb, Kammeyer-Mueller, & Rotundo, 2004; Guy, Newman, & Mastracci, 2008; Hsieh, Jin, & Guy, 2012; Mastracci, Guy, & Newman, 2012; Wharton, 1999). This investigation looks at the relationship between emotional labor and job engagement, an outcome not previously studied, while also examining the influence of ethical leadership as a moderating variable. The purpose of this is to explicate factors that regulate the effects of emotional labor. It is a worthwhile inquiry because emotional labor is involved in three fourths of all public-service jobs and in two thirds of all workplace communication, yet little is known about how organizations assist workers as they strive to follow emotive display rules (Duke, Goodman, Treadway, & Breland, 2009; Guy et al., 2008; Guy & Newman, 2004; Mann, 1999; Maslach & Leiter, 2008). Leadership is a key factor in facilitating the organizational milieu, and studies show that support from supervisors buffers negative effects of the job environment (Kirmeyer & Dougherty, 1988; Schmieder & Smith, 1996). Ethical leadership is examined because its interpersonal characteristics connect with the affective component of public-service delivery.

Emotional labor, job engagement, and ethical leadership are constructs that contribute to responsiveness. Emotional labor refers to the management of one's own emotions on the job, as well as the emotional state of the citizen who is seeking services. The goal is for the transaction to be constructive and for the citizen to feel understood and respected. Job engagement refers to the employee's active caring, ownership of, and commitment to work tasks. …

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