Surface Acting as a Predictor of Emotional Exhaustion in Portuguese Social Workers
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
Dr. Joseph R. Merighi
Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Boston University
Dr. Maria Cisaltina da Silveira Nunes Dinis
Associate Professor, Division of Social Work, California State University