Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Gendered and Racialized Emotional Labor in Public Organizations


Emotional labor research in public administration lags behind other fields, is often omitted from discussions of representative bureaucracy, and rarely looks at its gendered and racialized dimensions. The existing scholarship fails to consider the dynamic nature of emotions and that different emotions (e.g., happiness versus anger) might warrant different emotional labor techniques for different groups. Meanwhile, scholars from sociology, applied psychology, and organizational behavior widely recognize the importance of emotional labor, but few have used an intersectional lens to study the well-recognized phenomenon.

This dissertation uses an intersectional approach to codify the difficult-to-measure and often unobserved emotional labor that can institutionalize inequity within public organizations. An intersectional approach is essential to make visible the experiences of those at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, and this dissertation describes in detail how the antecedents, experiences, and consequences of emotional labor differ based on the employee’s combination of gender and racial identity. Using a mixed-methods research design that combines daily diary entries and semi-structured interviews, this work (1) describes and measures the emotional labor embedded in both service encounters with the public and internal interactions among colleagues, (2) looks at subgroup differences in the emotional effort at the intersection of race and gender, and (3) assesses the relationship between emotional labor and burnout to inform our understanding of the well-being of a diverse public sector workforce.

I find meaningful differences within and between individuals in the emotions needed to effectively engage the public and navigate public institutions. The results reveal that, compared to their peers, women of color engage in more taxing forms of emotional labor, feel more emotionally constrained by organizational rules, are more cognizant of managing gendered and racialized stereotypes, and are more sensitive to whether the climate allows for authentic expression. I also show that public employees experienced heightened burnout during the pandemic, and the suppression of emotion contributed to that burnout, but in different ways for different groups. In particular, women of color who suppressed negative emotions were more likely to experience a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, increased cynicism, disengagement from their work, and more emotional exhaustion.

This project reveals important distinctions in the type of emotional labor demanded of public employees and how those emotional demands differ across gender and racial identities. The results make visible the experiences of those at the margins of multiple lived experiences of oppression, allowing women of color to articulate their own emotional experiences in ways that center their voices. Importantly, this work highlights the importance of factoring emotional labor into the experience of burnout at work while emphasizing that the relationship between the two varies for individuals of different backgrounds. I provide concrete proof that there is an uneven distribution of emotional labor in public organizations, and it falls predominantly on women of color.

Measuring a construct as complex and dynamic as emotional labor lays the groundwork for important reform. By codifying, measuring, and describing the differential emotional burdens embedded in public organizations, I quantitatively demonstrate the need for equitable human resource management practices that address how organizations structurally reinforce inequity.


Equal Employment, Race, Work/life, Workplace | Permalink


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