Friday, 14 January 2005 - 8:00 AM

This presentation is part of: Occupational Stress in Social Work

Emotional Labor, Affective Well-Being, and Job Satisfaction of Renal Social Workers in the United States

Joseph R. Merighi, PhD, San Jose State University.

PURPOSE: To be effective practitioners, social workers need to be highly proficient at managing their own emotions. For example, social workers in health care settings are at risk to suffer from physical and emotional exhaustion because their jobs require them to be emotionally accessible to care seekers and to display organizationally desired emotions. 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.

METHODS: A sample of 809 social workers from all 50 states, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico was used for this study. The survey respondents were obtained by generating a list of all dialysis units that were in operation throughout the United States in October 2002 (N = 4,199), and selecting a stratified random sample of 1,500 units. The strata used to develop the sampling frame consisted of End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) network number and zip code. The overall response rate was 54.4%. A 245-item Nephrology Social Worker Job Survey was used to evaluate renal social work practice in three broad domains: (1) professional development and training, (2) dialysis unit issues, and (3) patient care. This survey included the following measures: 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.

RESULTS: Overall, the mean job satisfaction scores for part-time workers (139.3, SD = 26.8), full-time workers (136.3, SD = 28.0), and the total sample (138.1, SD = 27.1) were consistent with other large-scale studies of medical and mental health workers, police officers, and people employed in the business sector. Significant positive correlations were found between job satisfaction and both time spent providing counseling services (p < .001) and patient education (p < .001). Significant negative correlations were found between job satisfaction and both time spent performing clerical tasks (p < .001) and assisting patients with insurance issues (p < .001). Findings from a multiple regression analysis indicated that job-related well-being, workload, negative affectivity, employment status, and surface acting (i.e., one type of emotional labor) were significant predictors of emotional exhaustion (R-squared = .640).

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: The study of emotional labor and emotional exhaustion offers insights into how psychological and health-related factors affect social work practitioners. The findings demonstrate how specific types of emotional management (e.g., surface acting), perceptions of workload, and part- versus full-time employment status contribute significantly to feeling emotionally exhausted. Research on emotional expression in the workplace offers important conceptual understandings that enhance social work pedagogy by providing students and educators with evidence to support the deleterious effect certain emotions can have on overall well-being.

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