Stress in the workplace is known as ‘emotional labour’ in some quarters, and refers to the emotional effort some employees must make when interacting with clients, patients or customers.

The need to put on a ‘happy face’ as an integral part of certain job roles, is taking on its toll on the countries productivity researchers say.

Researcher Dr Anya Johnson from Sydney University reported that workers in jobs involving high levels of emotional labour were absent, required treatment for stress related disorders and changed jobs more frequently.

Dr Johnson said, “this especially happens in health care, where the nurse for example needs to show certain emotions to be effective”.

Some nurses reported they dealt with emotional labour in their work place by putting on a ‘happy face’ or dislayed an emotion that matched the requirements, while privately feeling something very different.

Those who had to put on a ‘happy face’ reported lower job satisfaction, poorer task performance, more often declared an intention to leave a job and talked of being burnt out, Dr Johnson said.

The researchers reported better outcomes were found by those who worked at actually feeling the appropriate emotion by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes, or worked out how to reframe the situation.

The nursing profession faced a similar problem in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and research of the day the found the solution was to have nurses elect to work day, afternoon or night shift and not do rotating rosters. Different people thrived on certain times of the day or night to work, and the election process sorted out many former problems and greatly reduced stress for many.

The research also revealed that medical nurses enjoyed the friendly loving and caring of working in tending to the needs of patients on the wards, and naturally smiling was a ‘stress buster’ for both patients and nurses.

On the other hand surgical nurses did not enjoy the interaction with patients, and putting on a ‘happy face’ was stressful for them. These highly analytical souls thrived in the highly task orientated work associated with working in theatre where the patients were anethetised and they had to perform very specific analytical roles in supporting the surgeons. Putting on a ‘happy face’ here was not part of the role.

Job placement based on either personal preference around either people interaction or task interaction is a critical factor in creating a low stress work place environment.

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