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Call to manage emotional efforts at work

The need to put on a certain emotional face in some jobs is taking its toll on workers and the nation’s productivity, say Sydney researchers.

The workplace stress, known as “emotional labour”, refers to the emotional effort some employees must make when interacting with customers, clients or patients.

“This particularly happens in health care, where you need to show certain emotions to be effective,” co-researcher Dr Anya Johnson told AAP.

“If you are a nurse for example, there is an expectation for you to be compassionate, caring, and being positive with your patients is a very important part of their care.”

Workers in jobs involving high levels of emotional labour are absent, require treatment for stress related disorders and change jobs more frequently than other workers, according to the University of Sydney study.

Some people deal with emotional labour by putting on a “happy face” or displaying an emotion that matches requirements while privately feeling something very different.

“You may be extremely angry at a patient who lashed out at you and you just try to cover it over by smiling,” Johnson said.

Nurses who put on a happy face reported lower job satisfaction, poorer task performance, more often declared an intention to leave a job and talked of being burnt out, she said.

Better outcomes were reported by those who tried to actually feel the appropriate emotion by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes or “reframing the situation”.

Johnson said the study had important implications for health care managers “as there are significant costs associated with emotional labour as it drains limited resources and impairs employee wellbeing”.

She said: “Developing opportunities and support to help employees in high stress positions in managing their emotional labour are needed.”

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