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“I don’t have any emotions”: An ethnography of emotional labour and feeling rules in the emergency department

Kirk, Kate; Cohen, Laurie; Edgley, Alison; Timmons, Stephen


Kate Kirk

Professor of Work and Organisation

Professor of Health Services Management


Aims: This study aims to apply Hochschild's theory of emotional labour to emergency care, and uncover the 'specialty-specific' feeling rules driving this labour. Despite the importance of positive nurse wellbeing, the emotional labour of nursing (a great influencer in wellbeing) remains neglected.

Design and Methods: Ethnography enabled immersion in the ED setting, gathering the lived experiences and narratives of the ED nursing team. We undertook first-hand observations at one major trauma center ED and one district general ED including semi-structured interviews (18). A reflexive and interpretive approach towards thematic analysis was utilised.

Results: We unearthed and conceptulaised four feeling rules born from this context and offer extensive insights into the emotional labour of emergency nurses. Conclusion: Understanding the emotional labour and feeling rules of various nursing specialties offers critical insight into the challenges facing staff-fundamental for nursing wellbeing and associated retention programs.

What problem did the study address? A lack of (theoretical and empirical) knowledge relating to emotional labour, and associated feeling rules, in the ED.

What were the main findings? The distinctive context has significant implications for the emotional labour undertaken. This labour was driven by four, enculturated feeling rules which we conceptualised.

Where and on whom will the research have impact? Academically, this research expands our understanding-we know little of nurses' feeling rules and how specialties influence them. Clinically, (including service managers and policy makers) there are practical implications for nurse wellbeing.


Kirk, K., Cohen, L., Edgley, A., & Timmons, S. (2021). “I don’t have any emotions”: An ethnography of emotional labour and feeling rules in the emergency department. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 77(4), 1956-1967.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 10, 2021
Online Publication Date Feb 11, 2021
Publication Date 2021-04
Deposit Date Jan 18, 2021
Publicly Available Date Feb 12, 2022
Journal Journal of Advanced Nursing
Print ISSN 0309-2402
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 77
Issue 4
Pages 1956-1967
Keywords Emergency nursing, Emotional labour, Emotions, Burnout, psychological
Public URL
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