Purdue University Graduate School
Emotional Labor and Burnout_FischerThesis.pdf (1.01 MB)
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posted on 2019-06-10, 17:51 authored by Melanie Ann WatkinsMelanie Ann Watkins

Burnout is the emotional, mental, and physical strain associated with prolonged work stress (Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1986). Although this is a problem in many professions, mental health providers are at a heightened risk of burnout (Salyers et al., 2015). One of the reasons for this increase in burnout may be the demands put on mental health workers to manage their own emotions while dealing with the intense emotional and mental health situations of their clients. Emotional labor, or the management of emotions at work, is conceptualized as two different emotion regulation strategies: surface acting and deep acting(Grandey, 2000). Surface acting, or faking emotions, has been associated with significant mental health and job-related problems, including burnout in populations such as call center employees and service workers. The psychological impact of deep acting, or internally attempting to change your emotions, is less clear, and may actually be associated with positive outcomes (Hülsheger & Schewe, 2011). However, little work has looked at the impact of emotional labor on mental health providers. The current study aims to examine how surface acting and deep acting are related to burnout over time in mental health providers. The proposed study is secondary analysis from a Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) funded trial “The impact of burnout on patient-centered care: A comparative effectiveness trial in mental health (Salyers et al., 2018). 193 Clinicians reported burnout symptoms and frequency of employing emotional labor strategies at baseline, with 127 clinicians completing all four time-points: baseline, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months. Data were analyzed using multiple regression analyses and cross-lagged panels to examine the impact of surface acting and deep acting on burnout over the course of 12 months. Surface acting was significantly associated with all three dimensions of burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment) cross-sectionally. Using cross-lagged panel models, depersonalization at baseline significantly predicted surface acting three and six months later. Surface acting and personal accomplishment had a bidirectional relationship: increased surface acting at baseline was associated with personal accomplishment at three months and decreased personal accomplishment at baseline and was associated with increased surface acting at three and six months. Deep acting moderated the relationship between surface acting and personal accomplishment at baseline, but not longitudinally. The current study is the first study that has examined the relationship between surface acting and burnout in community mental health professionals. While surface acting may not result in burnout three months later for dimensions other than personal accomplishment, two dimensions of burnout (depersonalization and decreased personal accomplishment) were associated with higher levels of surface acting three and six months later. This suggests that surface acting may have consequences for feelings of accomplishment at work, but more so, may be used a coping mechanism in reaction to some aspects of burnout.


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Psychological Sciences

Campus location

  • Indianapolis

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Michelle Salyers

Additional Committee Member 2

Kevin Rand

Additional Committee Member 3

Tamika Zapolski

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