Emotional labour

Posted by: Adam Refoufi - Posted on:

Patient in bed receiving care

Emotional labour

Transcript

[00:00:01] Hi, everyone. I’m here to talk to you about emotional labour.

[00:00:07] It’s what you do each and every day, and it can cost you dearly. It’s a role requirement for you. And yet it’s not something I’ve seen on any job descriptions. A role requirement, as if you were a driving instructor and you needed to be able to drive or a French teacher and you needed to be able to speak French. In order to do your job well, you need to be able to undertake emotional labour and it’s hard.

[00:00:34] In practice what emotional labour means is suppressing your own emotions in order to portray a suitable work-related emotion. So, for example, you may have to suppress your own fear if you’re dealing with somebody who’s tested positive for COVID-19. Or your own anger,  if you’re being abused verbally or physically or indeed your own grief if you’re caring for a patient who’s dying and caring for them and their relatives. Your job is to be in the moment with them, caring for them, not being overwhelmed by your own sense of grief.

[00:01:12] So this is really hard work and it’s rarely spoken about or understood. In order to do this, you need to withdraw from your emotional bank accounts. And like every bank account, it is likely it’s like mine to become overdrawn at times. So how can you top that up? Each and every day, there is plenty there for you to be able to make withdrawals from. Well, there are lots of ideas and some of them you’ll find on this website.

[00:01:44] One of the ideas that I was working with at the University of Birmingham with colleagues was the model that the Samaritans adopt for them to care for their volunteers. The volunteers work in twos, and their job is to buddy up with each other. So they’re not just responsible for caring for the callers, but also for each other. And they were touching base with each other in between calls. And if they thought there was a particularly difficult call, then they would stop and really listen and make sure the person was okay. Their emotional bank account was topped back up, and at the end of the shift, they would then have to speak to their team leader, who would say, “what sort of calls did you take?”… “And how did that make you feel?”

[00:02:31] Now, this approach may be more difficult for you to adapt in your context, but it shouldn’t be impossible, and maybe it’s worth a try. Just touching base with each other, even if it’s in the sluice, cause you’ve got nowhere else to do it. Just touch base, top-up each other’s emotional bank accounts so you can get through the shift and get home and try and relax. 

[00:02:56] It isn’t your responsibility alone, of course, because it’s a requirement for you that you do this work. And if we were employing builders, we would see it as our responsibility to assure the builders with hard hats as they go into physically unsafe building sites. So what does the equipment look like for you as you go into emotionally unsafe worksites? Yellow hats are not just for builders.

[00:03:21] So the key message then is to understand emotional labour is a thing. It’s not just you or your colleagues having a bad day. It exists. It is real. And it needs to be addressed. You need to think and find ways of helping top up your emotional bank account each and every day. The only vehicle through which patients can get compassionate care is through you. So please look after yourselves, not just for you, but also for your patients. You both really matter. Thank you.

Yvonne Sawbridge, Associate at the Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham talks about what emotional labour is, its challenges and strategies to help support you and your colleagues during challenging times.

When working in health and care, in order to do your job well, you need to be able to undertake ’emotional labour’.

In practice, emotional labour involves suppressing your own emotions in order to portray a suitable work-related emotion. Examples of this could include:

  • Suppressing your own fear if you’re dealing with somebody who’s tested positive for COVID-19
  • Managing your own anger, if you’re being abused verbally or physically
  • Not being overwhelmed by your own sense of grief so you can be in the moment when caring for a patient who’s dying and their relatives

This is really hard work and it’s rarely spoken about or understood. In order to do this, you need to withdraw from your ’emotional bank accounts’. Like every bank account, these can become overdrawn at times. A way to help you top them back up comes from a model the Samaritans adopt to care for their volunteers:

  • Working in twos – this includes touching base with each other throughout a shift and really listening and making sure the other person is okay
  • Connecting with your team leader at the end of a shift – to talk about the care you gave and how it made you feel

Finding ways of helping top up your emotional bank account each and every day is key. The only vehicle through which patients can get compassionate care is through you. So please look after yourselves, not just for you, but also for your patients. You both really matter.

Further resources

TEDx University of Birmingham

Why might good people deliver bad care? – Yvonne Sawbridge

Guides

Do’s and don’ts of caring for colleagues – Nothing substitutes better than having a good team

5 min Me Space | Making time for yourself today

ABC Guide to personal resilience – Coping with challenging and difficult situations

Conversations about painful subjects – Approaching painful subjects

Support for leaders – Helping you lead your team compassionately and inclusively

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