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Emotional labour underlying caring: an evolutionary concept analysis


T. Huynh: e-mail:


Title. Emotional labour underlying caring: an evolutionary concept analysis

Aim.  This paper is a report of a concept analysis of emotional labour.

Background.  Caring is considered as the essence of nursing. Underpinning caring, the internal regulation of emotions or the emotional labour of nurses is invisible. The concept of emotional labour is relatively underdeveloped in nursing.

Data sources.  A literature search using keywords ‘emotional labour’, ‘emotional work’ and ‘emotions’ was performed in CINAHL, PsycINFO and REPERE from 1990 to January 2008. We analysed 72 papers whose main focus of inquiry was on emotional labour.

Review methods.  We followed Rodgers’ evolutionary method of concept analysis.

Results.  Emotional labour is a process whereby nurses adopt a ‘work persona’ to express their autonomous, surface or deep emotions during patient encounters. Antecedents to this adoption of a work persona are events occurring during patient–nurse encounters, and which consist of three elements: organization (i.e. social norms, social support), nurse (i.e. role identification, professional commitment, work experience and interpersonal skills) and job (i.e. autonomy, task routine, degree of emotional demand, interaction frequency and work complexity). The attributes of emotional labour have two dimensions: nurses’ autonomous response and their work persona strategies (i.e. surface or deep acts). The consequences of emotional labour include organizational (i.e. productivity, ‘cheerful environment’) and nurse aspects (i.e. negative or positive).

Conclusion.  The concept of emotional labour should be introduced into preregistration programmes. Nurses also need to have time and a supportive environment to reflect, understand and discuss their emotional labour in caring for ‘difficult’ patients to deflate the dominant discourse about ‘problem’ patients.