Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Qualitative Study of the Impact of Emotional Labour on Health Managers

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Qualitative Study of the Impact of Emotional Labour on Health Managers

Article excerpt

The objective of the study was to examine how surface acting is used by middle managers to manage the emotional displays of executives in the health industry in Australia. The research was located within a social constructionist epistemology and the theoretical construct used to structure the study was surface acting. Data was generated through qualitative interviews with 49 middle managers. Analysis was undertaken using grounded theory and thematic analysis. The main finding was that unlike male managers, female managers took on the role of managing the emotional displays of senior staff and used surface acting as the means of doing this. They expressed optimism, calmness and empathy even when these were not the emotions that they were actually feeling. It is argued that the propensity for female managers to take on the role of managing the emotional displays of powerful others demonstrates the extent to which gender stereotypes still persist in the health system. The long-term impact of this is often detrimental in terms of female middle managers well-being. This is the first study to look at how surface acting is used by more junior staff to moderate the behaviour of executives. Keywords: Emotions, Middle Managers, Surface Acting, Gender Differences

The health service management literature appears to be publishing more studies examining the emotion work performed by people who are leaders and managers in organisations (Schat & Frone, 2011). Concepts such as emotional labour (Hochschild, 1983) and emotional intelligence (Cherniss & Goleman, 2001) are re-appearing in new guises, such as the discussion of toxic organisations (Frost, 2003) and psychopathic managers (Applebaum, Semerjian, & Mohan, 2012).

What has received less attention is the emotional labour that is routinely performed by health service middle managers as part of their day-to-day job role, not involving patients (Barron & West, 2007). Descriptions of the ways middle managers employ emotional labour are largely missing from the health service management literature (Fineman, 2003). Nor has the literature described the ways middle managers use emotional labour to manage the emotional displays of executives and senior medical practitioners or how gender might be a factor in this. This paper attempts to fill this gap by describing how health service managers employ surface acting, in an attempt to influence the emotion displays of more senior staff. Although this study took place in Melbourne, Australia, the phenomena under study, specifically surface acting and, more generally, emotional labour, gender relations, authority relations, the relative status of health professionals, and the impact of organisational culture on employees' well-being, appear to be of interest globally. They are of interest in a range of non-western (Batinic, 2010; Sohn & Lee, 2012; Yin, 2012; Zhang & Zhu, 2008) and western (Lindorff, 2001; Naring, Briet, & Brouwers, 2006; Torkelson & Muhonen, 2004; Winstanley & Whittington, 2002) cultures.

It is not being suggested that the findings are generalizable across other cultures and settings, but it is reasonable to suggest that they would be of interest to others given universal interest in the phenomena described above.

Research Question

This study did not look at the emotion work that health industry leaders (such as Medical Directors or Nurse Leaders) engage in when dealing with patients, clients or their families. The intent of this study was to explore the use of surface acting when middle managers engage with their superiors. The research question was: How is surface acting used by middle managers to manage emotion displays by executives and senior staff. Middle manager refers to those in positions with line responsibility but who are not part of the executive (e.g., Nurse Unit Managers, Clinical Directors, Allied Health Managers). Superior refers to health service executives, senior medical staff and other bureaucrats, who had significant authority but may or may not be in a line management relationship with the middle manager. …

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