243708 In good times and bad: Emotional labor in public health agencies

Monday, October 31, 2011: 5:10 PM

Maureen Bezold, PhD, MPH , Department of Health Sciences, Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL
Jamie Johnson, PhD, CHES , Department of Health Sciences, Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL
Public health agencies face a myriad of challenges, exacerbated by current economic conditions. Local health departments have lost significant numbers of jobs, instituted mandatory furloughs, and made programmatic cuts. Workforce changes brought about by current economic conditions can take an emotional toll on front line public health workers whose daily work already requires they engage in emotional labor when dealing with coworkers and vulnerable residents. Indeed, emotional labor is required of public health workers if residents are to have positive interactions with public health agencies. Thus emotional labor can be understood to be the emotional effort – labor - it takes to display emotions sanctioned in the workplace even if workers do not feel that way. This may or may not be a challenge for workers. It becomes a challenge when the “unedited” emotions workers feel in response to interactions with coworkers and residents are different from sanctioned emotions. Workers engage in emotional labor with both coworkers and residents. These interactions can lead to burnout, decreased job satisfaction, distress, substance abuse, headaches, absenteeism, depression and cynicism. However emotional labor can also invoke positive responses including employee engagement, job satisfaction, dedication, and absorption in the work of public health agencies. To ensure the latter set of outcomes, public health agencies need incorporate programs, policies and procedures that minimize the amount of emotional labor required when interacting with coworkers. Public health agencies must also ensure employees have the resources, autonomy, feedback and learning opportunities that minimize the negative outcomes of dealing with residents.

Learning Areas:
Administration, management, leadership
Public health administration or related administration

Learning Objectives:
Explain current workforce challenges in the United States. Define some of the stressors facing the current public health workforce. Demonstrate the need for change in organizational structures to mitigate the negative impact of emotional labor. Identify human resource management practices to help increase a positive work environment. Formulate policies that help promote positive relationships among coworkers.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have a Ph.D. in Business Management, a Masters degree in Public Health and experience working in a local health department
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.