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Keywords:

  • nurses;
  • ‘emotional labour’;
  • ‘emotion work’;
  • gift;
  • Hochschild;
  • professional;
  • caring;
  • altruism;
  • health care;
  • qualitative research

Who cares? Offering emotion work as a ‘gift’ in the nursing labour process

The emotional elements of the nursing labour process are being recognized increasingly. Many commentators stress that nurses’‘emotional labour’ is hard and productive work and should be valued in the same way as physical or technical labour. However, the term ‘emotional labour’ fails to conceptualize the many occasions when nurses not only work hard on their emotions in order to present the detached face of a professional carer, but also to offer authentic caring behaviour to patients in their care. Using qualitative data collected from a group of gynaecology nurses in an English National Health Service (NHS) Trust hospital, this paper argues that nursing work is emotionally complex and may be better understood by utilizing a combination of Hochschild's concepts: emotion work as a ‘gift’ in addition to ‘emotional labour’. The gynaecology nurses in this study describe their work as ‘emotionful’ and therefore it could be said that this particular group of nurses represent a distinct example. Nevertheless, though it is impossible to generalize from limited data, the research presented in this paper does highlight the emotional complexity of the nursing labour process, expands the current conceptual analysis, and offers a path for future research. The examination further emphasizes the need to understand and value the motivations behind nurses’ emotion work and their wish to maintain caring as a central value in professional nursing.