Survey says 'faking' feelings may bring on nurse burnout

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Klaus-Helmut Schmidt, Ph.D.
Klaus-Helmut Schmidt, Ph.D.

Nurses who don't have a natural ability to control their emotions and who feel like they're regularly “faking” feelings at work are more likely to experience burnout, depression and be absent, according to recently published research in the International Journal of Nursing Studies.

Investigators at the Technical University of Dortmund surveyed nurses at three nursing homes and a hospital in Germany. 

They assessed the nurses' cognitive control, or ability to self-regulate their emotions, the researchers explained. This is important in doing “emotional labor” — maintaining appearances regardless of genuinely felt emotion.

Surface acting and deep acting are two strategies for emotional labor. Surface acting involves moderating outward expressions of emotion. Deep acting involves modifying situations or perceptions to actually change feelings. 

The nurses with less cognitive control and a habit of surface acting experienced greater job strain, the researchers found. 

Long-term care facilities could benefit from fostering greater cognitive control and encouraging deep acting, the authors concluded. They noted that a physical exercise program has been shown to improve workers' self-control.

Other research has shown that deep acting can be fostered by training workers to put themselves in the customer's shoes.


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