Surface Acting as a Predictor of Emotional Exhaustion in Portuguese Social Workers

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Purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between various approaches used to manage one's emotions in the workplace and feeling emotionally exhausted. To be effective practitioners, social workers need to be highly proficient at managing their emotions on the job. For example, social workers are at risk to suffer from physical and emotional exhaustion because their jobs often require them to be emotionally accessible to care seekers and to display organizationally desired responses. The management of such workplace emotions is referred to as emotional labor. Because emotional labor is intrinsic to social work practice, the meaning and influence of emotional reactions on a social worker's professional comportment and well-being merit investigation. This study replicates a national survey that was conducted with American social workers (Merighi, 2006). Methods: A sample of 370 social workers from mainland Portugal, Madeira, and the Azores was obtained for this study. All members of the Social Work Professional Association as of July 2005 (N = 1,260) were sent a 134-item mail survey that assessed professional roles, practice-related issues, and alcohol and drug use. In addition, the following measures were included: Job Satisfaction Survey, Job-Related Affective Well-Being Scale, Job-Related Emotional Exhaustion Scale, Quantitative Workload Inventory, Emotional Labor Scale, and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. The survey instrument was developed in American English, translated into Portuguese with the assistance of certified translators at the Portuguese Center of Social Work History and Research in Lisbon, Portugal, and back-translated to assure its clarity and accuracy. The response rate was 29.4%. Results: Hierarchical regression analysis was used to test the relationship between four types of emotional labor (surface acting - hiding; surface acting - faking; deep acting - managing; deep acting - refocusing) and job-related emotional exhaustion, after controlling for gender, negative affectivity, workload demands, hours worked per week, and caseload. The final model was statistically significant (F = 24.21, p < .001) and explained 48.9% of the variance (adjusted R square = .468). Findings indicated that only one type of emotional labor (i.e., surface acting that involves hiding one's truly felt emotions) significantly predicted emotional exhaustion (β = .188, p <. 001) and explained 5.3% of the variance in the final model. Implications for Practice: Research on the expression of emotions in the workplace offers important conceptual understandings of the deleterious effect that hiding one's true feelings about a person or situation can have on well-being. Findings can be used by students, field agency supervisors, and social work practitioners to understand the importance of authentic emotional expression in the workplace, and to develop professionally appropriate ways to manage emotionally difficult situations on the job.


Keywords: Emotional Labor, Emotional Exhaustion, Deep Acting, Surface Acting
Stream: Education and Social Welfare
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: , Surface Acting as a Predictor of Emotional Exhaustion in Portuguese Social Workers


Dr. Joseph R. Merighi

Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Boston University
Boston, MA, USA

Joseph R. Merighi is an Associate Professor of Human Behavior at Boston University School of Social Work. Dr. Merighi is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Nephrology Social Work, and he serves as a consulting editor for Social Work and the Journal of Social Work Education. His research focuses on social work practice in health care settings, with an emphasis on renal social work, and cross-national comparisons of job-related well-being of social work practitioners. In addition to his research and teaching, Dr. Merighi has served as a consultant for organizations such as the National Kidney Foundation’s Council of Nephrology Social Workers and United Cerebral Palsy. Dr. Merighi received his MSW and PhD from the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Maria Cisaltina da Silveira Nunes Dinis

Associate Professor, Division of Social Work, California State University
Sacramento, California, USA

Maria Cesaltina Dinis, Ph.D., MSW, is an associate professor for the Division of Social Work at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS). Dr. Dinis is the Admissions Director for the Master's of Social Work program at CSUS. Dr. Dinis is the Chair of the CSUS, Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (CPHS) during every Spring term and member of the California Health and Human Services Agency, CPHS committee. She has published in the areas of alcohol/drug treatment, policy, and prevention. Her interests are in multicultural issues in regards to alcohol/drugs, women, and global social work. Dr. Dinis received her Ph.D. from the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ref: I08P0123