1.3 Emotional labour
Social work inevitably involves a considerable amount of ‘emotional labour’: ‘the management of feelings performed as part of paid work’ (Gorman, in Adams et al., 2009, p. 95). For example, social workers may need to conceal their immediate emotional response to maintain a non-judgemental or authoritative stance (Kinman et al., 2011); doing this can become stressful over time.
Although social workers routinely work with people experiencing distress and with service users who would prefer not to see them, this does not (and should not) mean that they become immune to ordinary human responses. You have probably developed ways of responding to expressions of anger or hostility, but this should not be at the expense of suppressing your own emotion. Lack of congruence between personal feelings and professional values can lead to ‘self-alienation, emotional depletion and burnout’ (Grant and Kinman, 2014, p. 41). On the other hand, Megele (2015, p. 7) suggests that the explicit recognition of emotional labour ‘offers us the opportunity to better manage the emotional toil and demand of everyday practice.’ This is an example of the ‘ordinary magic’, in which a problem shared can build resilience.