Part 2 of EI and Nursing – Emotional Labor

Fabiah Admin

Part 2 of EI and Nursing – Emotional Labor

            Hi Fabiah readers, we hope you are staying well during this tough time. Now more than ever we are thankful for what you do! On Fabiah Blog, we are continuing our EI and Nursing series by taking a look at how Emotional Intelligence (EI) interacts with Emotional Labor.

            In our first article, we defined EI as the ability to correctly identify and effectively manage emotions in ourselves and others. In this article we introduce Emotional Labor and define it as the effort required to display an emotion that you are not truly feeling. You may not have even needed the definition to know that Emotional Labor is something nurses do all the time, but the definition makes it clear that Emotional Labor is something that plays a large role in nursing. That’s why, if EI can help with Emotional Labor, then EI is especially helpful to nurses.

            Nursing involves many responsibilities, from assessment of the patient to implementation and evaluation of treatment, but through all of this important work a nurse is also called to express compassion and empathy. These are in fact at the very heart of nursing. Nurses are called to display compassion at all times, and not only to easy patients, or when they feel appreciated, or when everything is going well at home. So, the times when nurses show one emotion on the outside while they feel something completely different on the inside, are many. A nurse’s compassion often requires Emotional Labor.

            There is, however, a problem with the high levels of Emotional Labor that nursing requires. High levels of Emotional Labor lead to increased levels of emotional exhaustion, job-stress, and a lower level of job satisfaction, as this 2013 article in Journal of Advanced Nursing found. Moreover, nurses aren’t just dealing with a high frequency of Emotional Labor but a high intensity as well. Healthcare is an emotionally charged setting where real and strong feelings are frequent, and an intensely felt feeling takes more effort to suppress. It’s one thing for someone to have to control their grumbling after a bad night’s sleep, but nurses deal with feelings stirred up by the suffering of the patients and their families while needing to display compassion and cheerfulness. The great distance that opens up between what nurses truly feel and the feeling they need to display, can require a serious and draining amount of Emotional Labor.

            The good news is that EI can help. Studies suggest that EI moderates Emotional Labor’s negative effects. When Emotional Labor is high, a high EI can slow the rise in levels of emotional exhaustion and job-stress. As we discussed in our last article, EI equips nurses to identify and regulate emotion. Better regulation of what we feel can shrink the distance between our true feeling and the feeling we need to display. Nurses who can keep their frustration from building and building, for example, will not have to work as hard at displaying compassion to their patients.

            EI helps in a few more ways. A high EI can help nurses have a better awareness of what a patient is feeling, which can make it easier to know what attitude they should display. EI also helps nurses have a greater awareness of the negative impacts of Emotional Labor. Nurses need to be able to identify when they are emotionally exhausted and be ready to regulate their emotions before they can actively seek the resources they need.

            There are resources and strategies that can help nurses deal with the negative impact of Emotional Labor. As a 2016 article in the journal Healthcare found, two important resources are emotional support and places for emotional expression. It helps to have a place to vent those feelings nurses have had to suppress while they provide patient care. This requires a place, somewhere to retreat from a charged situation, but also support from colleagues who will listen, help clarify feelings, and reaffirm shared values. A supportive environment that encourages authentic expression of emotions not only helps nurses manage the strain of Emotional Labor in the moment, it can also help nurses become more emotionally resilient. Nurses might also consider seeking out a mentoring relationship or reflecting in a journal about their feelings and how they are dealing with them. Any place where feelings can be expressed, processed, and readjusted can help.

            To wrap up, because EI can help with the burdens of Emotional Labor, it is especially important for nurses. Don’t forget that any improvement in self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy can improve EI. However, there’s no substitute for a supportive and authentic work environment. That, in the end, is a nurse’s best resource for handling the negative impacts of Emotional Labor.

            Next week on Fabiah Blog we will continue our EI and Nursing series with a deep dive into Emotional Intelligence. We will talk about three traits that are important for EI called attention, clarity, and repair. It turns out that there’s one of these traits we need to watch out for, because it can actually lower our EI.

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