Emotional Labour:
Employees to show their emotions in workplace

Dr HSIEH Chih-wei from the Department of Public Policy is currently working on a research project concerning emotions of employees in workplace, namely Emotional Labour. The project was funded by the Ruth "Sweetie" Cox Dissertation Award when Dr Hsieh was a doctoral student at Florida State University. He continues to work on this topic at CityU and is exploring new perspectives for his analysis.


For employees who deal directly with the individuals they serve, the display of socially and organisationally sanctioned emotions (e.g. service with smile) is just as important as the physical and cognitive requirements of their job. This "emotional labour" is recognised as a crucial component of interactive service work, especially in the government sector. Like police, fire, and social work, many public service jobs entail face-to-face or voice-to-voice interactions with citizens and such an encounter often shapes citizens' perception of government, which in turn contributes to or contaminates the bonding between the two.

Major Findings

Despite its practical significance, there are still many questions about how stressful it may be to provide "service with a smile", and its connection to job burnout, or emotional exhaustion. In one of his recent publications, Dr Hsieh analysed the responses of 208 public service workers in the United States who were asked to rate aspects of their job's emotional performance requirements and their support environment, as well as their level of exhaustion. He found that emotional labour requirements are not necessarily stressful for public service workers, so long as the requirement comports with their natural tendency to enjoy positive social interactions. However, when these workers were also required to suppress negative emotions over a prolonged period of time, stress increased. Specific resources helped workers to diminish stress. Based on this analysis, managers are advised to allow workers to decide for themselves how best to respond to emotional demands, encourage and facilitate mutual support among coworkers, and recognise successful performance with clear rewards. In particular, co-worker support was a significant factor in diminishing the stress caused by hiding negative emotions.

Dr Hsieh's next step is to connect his research with Asian values. He is planning to investigate the motivational bases of emotional labour in public service with a perspective derived from Confucian humanism. Confucian humanistic values are practical moral principles aiming for directing right action for social interaction. Therefore, Dr Hsieh believes that Confucian teachings can lead public servants to put effort into emotional labour when interacting with citizens. Through the planned study, Dr Hsieh hopes to contribute to human resource management in public service professions, especially with respect to staff selection and training.