Another study that has examined emotional labor outside of the nursing arena involved assessing the degree to which clinical psychologists performed emotional labor during patient sessions. Using a questionnaire the study revealed that 80 per cent of patient interactions involved the performance of emotional labor by the clinical psychologists (Mann and Jones, 1996). Clearly, although studies examining emotional labor outside of the nursing professions are rare, the evidence that there suggests that emotion management is just an important part of these health-care settings and should be considered just as much within healthcare management.

Emotional Labor and the Patient Experience

Emotional labor in health care has considerable significance for the patient who experiences pain, fear, anxiety or even panic (Phillips, 1996). The nurse who performs emotional labor is able to manage the reaction of her patient by both providing reassurance and allowing an outlet for their emotions – thus directly impacting on their psychological and physical well-being and recovery. At its simplest level, emotional labor performance maintains a “cheerful environment” (Mitchell and Smith, 2003, p. 114) which makes patients feel safe and comfortable. Many nurses in Smith and Gray’s (2000, p. 41) review point out that emotional labor makes the nurse and patient contact easier in “moving things along” and in “oiling the wheels of nursing work”. Emotional labor, they say, is the “almost invisible bond that the nurse cultivates with the patient” and many nurses felt that their emotional labor performance even helps the patient to manage disclosures of an emotional nature. Within the caring professions, expressing genuine emotion is not always the most helpful response – in some cases performing emotional labor might be more beneficial to the client. For instance, a maternity nurse reported by Henderson (2001, p. 132) is reported as saying “You have to have a rational detachment otherwise you could become involved . . . and then it would not benefit yourself or this woman”. As McQueen (2004, p. 104) puts it, “if one is overcome with emotion, cognition and behavior can be adversely affected”.

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