Leader labour

Ella Rhodes reports from the Society's Annual Conference.

Emotional labour, or being forced to show emotions that don’t reflect what you’re actually feeling, has been studied extensively among service industry workers. However, Dr Ludmila Musalová, who works with consultancy and research company Greenstreet Berman, has looked into the use of emotional labour among leaders. Would leaders feel emotional labour is a necessary aspect of their jobs, and does it have the same psychological costs?

Musalová recruited 106 leaders via LinkedIn, from many different sectors, including nuclear, investment banking and the NHS. They completed questionnaires on emotional labour and occupational stress. She also carried out semi-structured interviews with 13 leaders and analysed these with interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Her surveys showed more negative wellbeing and increased stress among those who use ‘surface acting’. Poor mental health, she said, was also linked with suppressing negative emotions

In her detailed interviews she said leaders gave the perception that, even in their high-powered positions, they feel a need to appear friendly and composed. Their main uses of emotional labour were to maintain relationships, manage crises, and maintain trust and control over staff, and as a strategy to manage crises.

Musalová said some leaders appeared to use emotional labour in an almost manipulative way, managing not only their own emotions but also those of others. However, despite one’s position, she said prolonged emotional labour is still potentially detrimental to wellbeing.

- See also 'The cost of a smile'

- You can read more coverage from the Annual Conference online, and in the June and July print editions.

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