This study proposed a model that demonstrates the relationships between work-related emotional communication (i.e., emotional labor and emotional work) and three dimensions of burnout. Burnout entails exhaustion (energy depletion), cynicism (detachment from and negativity toward one’s job) and reduced professional efficacy (feelings of incompetence). Emotional labor comprises surface acting, deep acting, and automatic regulation. Surface acting occurs when workers display expected emotions at work but do not feel the emotion. In deep acting, workers do not initially feel the expected emotion but internalize it to match the expectation. Automatic regulation occurs when expected emotion is genuinely felt, but the magnitude of its display is either increased or decreased to match the display rule. In comparison, emotional work is conceptualized as showing empathic concern and/or emotional contagion. Scholars have distinguished the two kinds of empathy as feeling for (empathic concern) versus feeling with (emotional contagion).
The sample of the study included 2,067 attorneys licensed to practice in a southeastern U.S. state. The legal profession was selected because it is an understudied population, and it involves intense emotional labor and emotional work. Participants completed an online survey. Among the respondents, 46.8% were female, 52.8% were male, and half were under 45 years old.
1) Surface acting led to increased feelings of exhaustion and cynicism. Increased exhaustion, in turn, led to greater cynicism and feelings of inefficacy.
2) Automatic regulation, by contrast, resulted in decreased feelings of inefficacy and cynicism.
3) Deep acting did not affect feelings of exhaustion, which indicates that deep acting may not involve resource depletion, a cause for exhaustion-related burnout.
4) Workers with high levels of emotional contagion (i.e., feeling with) likely experience increased burnout compared to those with empathic concern (i.e., feeling for).
Implications for practice
This study has practical implications at both individual and organizational levels. Organizations should 1) incorporate the emotional communication requirements of their positions in job descriptions, 2) guide employees in choosing a practice area in line with their dispositions, and 3) provide better support to employees dealing with these stressors. Individuals, especially those working in legal professions, should 1) recognize how work-related emotional communication may negatively affect their well-being, 2) offer empathic concern to clients instead of adopting clients’ emotions, and 3) seek to learn more about the emotional communication requirements of certain job positions and evaluate their compatibility.
Powers, S. R., & Myers, K. K. (2020). Work-related emotional communication model of burnout: an analysis of emotions for hire. Management Communication Quarterly, 34(2), 155-187.
Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0893318919893765 (abstract free, purchase full article)