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Early childhood teachers’ emotional labour

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Full reference
Jena-Crottet, A. (2017).  Early childhood teachers’ emotional labour.  NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, Special Issue: Early Childhood Teachers and their Work, 20(2), 19-33.  Retrieved from 


Original Research Paper
© ChildForum 

Early childhood teachers’ emotional labour

Anuja Jena-Crottet
Post-graduate student, AUT University, NZ


The purpose of the research was to understand how early childhood education (ECE) teachers experience emotional labour in their work in New Zealand. Based on qualitative research methodology in-depth interviews were conducted with narratives and reflections from six teachers. It was found that stressful encounters with parents and the team, and unsupportive management may lead to emotional labour experiences. Unfair and heavy workloads and unpaid overtime hours may lead to poor work-life balance, fatigue and high emotional labour for teachers. It is hoped that this research will encourage awareness and professional dialogue in the ECE sector of emotional labour and help to inform changes in human resource management practices.

Key words: Emotional labour; work environment; deep acting; surface acting; occupational health and safety; teacher advocacy; work/life balance; workload.


Introduction and literature review

Despite a large body of international literature on emotional labour in various occupations, there is a paucity of research related to early childhood education (ECE) educators and no research is known to have been conducted on this topic in New Zealand. Hochschild (1983) first introduced the concept of emotional labour as a process by which workers are expected to manage or hide their feelings in accordance to organisationally defined rules and guidelines (Pugliesi, 1999). Emotional labour forms the component of psychological safety perceived by employees in their work environment (Hochschild, 1983, cited in Schaubroeck & Jones, 2000). Emotional labour occurs when the ‘below the surface’ emotions are in contrast to the displayed emotions (Brotheridge & Grandey, 2002; Zapf, 2002). Hochschild in her book ‘The managed heart’ (1983) discusses the commercialisation of emotions in the work environment in her landmark study of flight attendants.

Hochschild posited that ‘emotional management’ occurred in certain occupations and emotions like cheerfulness, being friendly and attentive were expected of the employees in all their interactions with clients (Hochschild, 1983; Hochschild, 2012). Organisations conveyed these expectations sometimes explicitly in policies and sometimes implicitly through the modeling actions of other employees. There were expectations from the organisation to be friendly, attentive and cheerful towards all clients.

Emotional labour performed in certain occupations requires emotional management and Hochschild posited that employees used ‘deep acting’ or ‘surface acting’ in order to display the emotions required for performing the job (Hochschild, 1983). During deep acting employees tried to closely align organisationally approved displayed emotions to felt emotions, whereas ‘surface acting’ was a superficial facade of emotions displayed by the employee without an effort to ‘feel’ those emotions internally (Hochschild, 1983; Prati, Liu, Perrewé, & Ferris, 2009). This was also termed as ‘emotion work’, that is the emotional “effort, planning and control” to meet the organisationally defined emotions in face-to-face interactions with clients (Pugliesi, 1999, p. 126; Andrews, Karcz, & Rosenberg, 2008, p. 245).


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