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Kariou, A.; Koutsimani, P.; Montgomery, A. Emotional Labor and Burnout among Teachers. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 16 June 2024).
Kariou A, Koutsimani P, Montgomery A. Emotional Labor and Burnout among Teachers. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 16, 2024.
Kariou, Anna, Panagiota Koutsimani, Anthony Montgomery. "Emotional Labor and Burnout among Teachers" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 16, 2024).
Kariou, A., Koutsimani, P., & Montgomery, A. (2021, December 27). Emotional Labor and Burnout among Teachers. In Encyclopedia.
Kariou, Anna, et al. "Emotional Labor and Burnout among Teachers." Encyclopedia. Web. 27 December, 2021.
Emotional Labor and Burnout among Teachers

A significant amount of emotional labor and burnout takes place during teaching. Teaching is a multitasking profession that consists of both cognitive and emotional components, with teachers engaging in emotional labor on a daily basis as an instrumental part of achieving teaching goals and positive learning outcomes. 

emotional labor education teachers burnout

1. Introduction

Emotional labor has always been a characteristic of teaching, but it is set to become even more important in the 21st century. The rapid expansion of the service economy globally has resulted in shifting normative expectations for service employees in all industries [1]. Increasingly, workers are expected to engage in more emotional labor [2] in all sectors, which translates into the need for employees to express organizationally desired emotions during interpersonal interactions [3]. In this sense, the feelings and behaviors that are used in the workplace become exchanged commodities with economic value attached to them [2]. This is consistent with the literature indicating that employees can experience burnout as a result of the congruence and discordance between their personal emotional states and occupational expectations [4]. The aforementioned is particularly relevant for the profession of teaching, where student and parent expectations have changed significantly over the last 30 years.
The phenomenon of institutional isomorphism in higher education is having an impact on education at all levels. Institutional isomorphism refers to the increasing practice of using national rankings, and how this influences efforts by universities and colleges to structure programmes to remain competitive with peer institutions, rather than being driven by the historical and/or local values of an institution [5]. The trickledown effect for teachers in elementary and high school education is a greater focus on exam results, which results in more emotional labor to keep the balance between affective neutrality and pastoral interest in students’ wellbeing [6]. In short, there is an increasing movement towards students as customers which ramps up the need for teachers to be constantly under emotional management.

2. The Modern Phenomenon of Emotional Labor

Emotional labor (EL) is the effort, planning and control needed to express organizationally desired emotions during interpersonal transactions [3]. Thus, it is a stressor factor but a necessary one in order for employees to regulate their feelings and expressions to achieve organizational goals [7]. Keller et al. [8] notes that emotions can influence teachers’ behaviors, students’ behavior and outcomes, and teachers themselves have mentioned that they use emotional labor on a regular basis. While emotional labor researchers have focused on service-related professions, relatively little attention has been given to educational settings where the need for daily interactions is a defining characteristic of work, in terms of unique, stable, repeated, intense and long-term daily interaction [9].
A significant amount of emotional labor takes place during teaching [8]. Teaching is a multitasking profession that consists of both cognitive and emotional components, such as teaching and designing the curriculum but also expressing or hiding true emotions or expressing the appropriate emotion for the situation, even if it is not true [10]. Teaching can be like acting in a live play or stand-up comedy [11]. Teachers are constantly exposed to the criticism of their students, parents, coworkers and principals, and are forced to deal with numerous emotional situations and at the same time be a role model for their students [12][13]. Therefore, unlike other employees in the service sector, teachers engage in emotional labor not just to align with the prescribed emotional-display rules, but also because they see such efforts as instrumental in reaching their teaching goals and positive learning outcomes [14]. It is a complex combination of decision making and emotional regulation [10]. For example, they need to manage their own anger in the classroom, show sympathy for awkward situations, show care for the progress of their students, continuously encourage them and their parents, and collaborate with their colleagues. Finally, problematic behaviors are more frequent in schools compared with other work environments [15].

3. The Components of Emotion Labor

The three core concepts within EL; surface acting (SA), deep acting (DA) and naturally felt emotions (NFE). Noor et al. [16] describes SA as changing one’s outward emotional expressions without attempting to feel the emotions displayed and deep acting as changing one’s outward emotional expressions, and at the same time, attempting to feel the emotions displayed. Thus, DA is the effort to truly feel the appropriate emotion according to the situation [17], while SA is the hiding or down regulating of felt emotions and faking false feelings [18]. Naturally felt emotions are defined as the effort involved for a person to express the feelings that they are actually experiencing in a genuine way [10].
Historically, the concept of EL evolved from the work of Hochschild [2], who originally talked about two main elements; surface and deep acting. More recently, Diefendorff [19] (2005) introduced the element of naturally felt emotion. Surface and deep acting are considered by Hochschild [2] and Grandey [7] as the appropriate response that arises from the expectations of the job. According to Yilmaz et al. [17], the fundamental difference between the dimensions (i.e., SA, DA, and NFE) is the level of internalization of behaviors. Surface acting involves non-internalized emotions, while naturally felt emotions involve internalized emotions. The internalization level in deep acting is more than that of surface acting, but less than naturally felt emotions. Surface acting can lead to feelings of inauthenticity or emotional dissonance, thus discouraging employees from reciprocating in the form of positive attitudes and behaviors [20]. Surface acting strategies that result in dissonance and exhaustion mean lower levels of satisfaction of individuals’ basic psychological needs at work, which are themselves known to predict impaired work functioning [21]. Conversely, there is evidence that deep acting does not require as many cognitive resources as surface acting [22].

4. Burnout and Emotional Labor

Burnout is a psychological syndrome that involves a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job [23]. The three key dimensions of job burnout are exhaustion, feelings of cynicism/depersonalization, and a sense of professional inefficacy/lack of accomplishment [24]. According to Montgomery and Maslach [25]; exhaustion is the individual stress dimension of burnout, and it refers to feelings of being physically overextended and depleted of one’s emotional resources; cynicism (or depersonalization) refers to a negative, callous, or excessively detached response to other people; and inefficacy (or lack of accomplishment) refers to a decline in one’s feelings of competence and successful achievement in one’s work.
Burnout has been linked with emotional and cognitive loss of control [26], as employees who suffer from burnout often experience difficulties in regulating their behavior, possibly due to executive control deficits [27][28]. Diminished executive control abilities could mediate the relationship between burnout and emotional labor. That is, burned-out teachers might be less able to apply strategies for regulating their emotions as a result of executive control deficits.
Educators are susceptible to the impact of emotional labor on burnout [29][30]. Teaching is a highly demanding profession, which requires both excellent knowledge of the subject and at the same time requires unlimited psychological resources for coping with everyday emotional challenges. The conservation of resources model (COR) is often mentioned as an attempt to better understand the source of burnout and the mediating role of emotional labor [31]. In essence, individuals want to maintain objects, skills and resources valuable to them, and when they sense a threat or when resources are used, burnout increases. The COR model has been used to explain the significant reduction in healthcare employees’ psychological capital levels during mandatory confinement due to COVID-19 [32], which results in resource depletion.
In the case of teachers’ emotional labor, loss of resources is one of the main drivers of burnout [10]. The COR model shows that these resources are not unlimited, and that is the time when problems arise. Poor miscalculation of emotional labor dynamics and failure to use strategies can lead to burnout. The resources model explains the imbalance between emotional demands and the resources available to regulate emotions. Teachers are guiding, teaching, collaborating, behaving in formal and informal ways and at the same time less likely to be reflecting on their personal problems [17].
Burnout is a potential cause of teachers’ dropout and retirement [8] and emotional labor contributes to these outcomes. Teaching is demanding and exhausting, and this can drive some teachers throughout their career to try to ameliorate the impact of their work by moving to ‘less demanding’ positions within the educational system such as administration, library services and management. In terms of emotional labor, NFE can help to conserve their resources [10], in contrast to surface acting which consumes resources as it involves a greater investment of resources than deep acting [33]. Congruently, Lenine and Naring [30] pointed out that burnout in teaching can follow an exponential growth pattern as teachers are impacted by emotional labor practices. In a longitudinal study, the results of Philipp et al. [33] highlight how the COR model can work in practice; as time passes, emotionally exhausted educators use more surface acting in order to reduce the use of their resources.
Theories of emotional inhibition and emotional repression have been associated with burnout. Montgomery et al. [34] suggested that the inhibition of emotions is associated with increased physiological chronic arousal, which is easily connected to negative health outcomes. Additionally, Yilmaz et al. [17] pointed out that few studies have examined emotional labor in relation to personality characteristics (with some exceptions [35][36]).
The relationship between EL and burnout is a mixed picture. SA is a positive predictor of burnout [37][38][39][40] while DA on the contrary may even result in positive psychological well-being [7][38]. Park et al. [10] suggests that naturally felt emotions can help conserve resources, in accordance with the COR model, and that interpersonal influence and deep acting reduce the effect of surface acting in burnout. According to Näring, Briët, and Brouwers [30], surface acting leads to higher levels of burnout. Naturally felt emotions were negatively related to burnout and positively related to job satisfaction [29]. Yilmaz et al. [17] reported that surface acting and naturally felt emotions are associated with the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization of teachers, while Akin et al. [11] reports that deep acting decreases burnout while surface acting increases the effect. Wrobel et al. [9] summarize the beneficial points of deep acting. Deep acting is positively associated with job satisfaction and personal accomplishment. Deep acting techniques require less energy and resources so are less emotionally exhausting.


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