Monash University
20170223-Maxwell-Thesis.pdf (2.75 MB)

Synchronous and Longitudinal Models of Emotional Labour and Occupational Health

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posted on 2017-03-02, 05:55 authored by Aimee Maxwell
There has been close to forty years of investigation in emotional labour. Studying this phenomenon began with Hochschild in the early 1980s when she first identified “acting” as a form of workplace labour. Since then, while there have been numerous studies into the emotional labour associated with customer service and caring professions, little research has specifically targeted leaders. School principals are leaders who manage long-term, rather than short-term, complex relationships with many different stakeholders. Given these responsibilities it might be expected that school leaders experience and employ emotional labour in various ways, perhaps unique to their job/role.
   Prior research into customer service workers and helping professionals revealed differential links between personal outcomes (e.g., burnout, job satisfaction, personal accomplishment) and business outcomes (e.g., customer satisfaction), depending on the type of emotional labour utilised: hiding emotions, faking emotions, and deep acting. This study sought to explore whether similar relationships would be seen in the target group of school leaders.
   The research project had three aims: first, to assess levels of emotional demands experienced by school leaders; second, to assess the amounts and types of emotional labour utilised in response to the demands associated with the role; and, third, to explore the psychosocial and occupational health indicators related to emotional demands and emotional labour both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. To the best of my knowledge there are few quantitative studies and no longitudinal investigations of emotional labour in this population.
   Study 1 involved survey data from 1320 full-time school leaders from all school types, sectors and states across Australia. These data were collected to assess their levels of emotional demands, burnout and job satisfaction (Pejtersen, Kristensen, Borg, & Bjorner, 2010), emotional labour (R.T. Lee & Brotheridge, 2011), and quality of life (Richardson, Iezzi, Khan, & Maxwell, 2014). The study then sought to estimate the relationships between these variables using structural equation modelling (SEM). The findings of Study 1 were extended by collecting three waves of data from the leaders (three year time span) for Study 2. Cross-lagged longitudinal relationships between the emotional labour variables and potential outcomes were estimated. Further, inclusion versus omission of emotional demand levels was compared in the longitudinal modelling to ascertain if differences would be observed in the relationships between other variables.
   The main findings were as follows. School leaders experience high levels of emotional demands in their roles. These demands are steady at the group level across years. The leaders involved in these studies utilise all three forms of emotional labour, but use hiding more than faking emotions, and they use deep acting the least. The levels and use of these strategies were stable at the group level across years. High levels of emotional exhaustion were reported, which were also stable at the group level across years. These leaders experienced high levels of job satisfaction and this too was stable at the group level across years. Lastly, school leaders reported average quality of life, which was stable at the group level across years.
   Study 1 found that emotional demands were associated with increased use of all emotional labour methods, increased emotional exhaustion, decreased job satisfaction and decreased overall quality of life. Hiding emotions was associated with increased emotional exhaustion, decreased job satisfaction and decreased quality of life. Faking emotions was only associated with decreased job satisfaction. Deep acting had no associations with emotional exhaustion, job satisfaction or quality of life. Study 2 found that employing emotional labour strategies at one time point did not predict future levels of emotional exhaustion, job satisfaction or quality of life at either a one- or two-year time lag.
   The findings of Study 1 demonstrate that school leaders experience emotional demands and use emotional labour in similar ways to employees who are not in leadership roles. Hiding emotions explained the most variance in psychosocial occupational correlates, and thus is the emotional labour strategy that is most detrimental. The findings also implied that use of deep acting should be encouraged wherever possible as it was not associated with any negative outcomes. Likewise, school leaders may benefit from professional development programs to better understand and choose specific emotional labour strategies. Such programs may assist them to ameliorate the increased emotional exhaustion, lowered job satisfaction, and lowered quality of life associated with the use of some strategies.
   Longitudinally, in Study 2, no causative relationships between emotional labour and personal outcomes were identified. This finding suggests that although emotional labour is definitely used, there were no long-term effects of using any emotional labour strategy at either a one- or two-year time lag. Reverse and reciprocal relationships were also tested, but neither was evident. These findings demonstrate the benefit of performing longitudinal studies to elucidate causative explanations of associations between emotional labour and psychosocial occupational outcomes. Finally, the inclusion or exclusion of emotional demands in the longitudinal modelling demonstrated its primary effect in driving emotional labour use and the potentially spurious results that can be seen when it was not included in modelling. To correctly examine and understand possible outcomes of emotional labour, it is important that emotional demands are accounted for in future research.


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Principal supervisor

Andrea Reupert

Additional supervisor 1

Philip Riley

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education

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