Insights into nurses’ precarious emotional labour in the emergency department
Intended for healthcare professionals
Evidence and practice    

Insights into nurses’ precarious emotional labour in the emergency department

Kate Kirk Clinical Academic, School of Health Sciences, University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, Nottingham, England
Alison Edgley Associate Professor, School of Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, England

Why you should read this article:
  • To understand the concept of emotional labour and how nurses perform emotional labour in their daily work

  • To learn about two emergency department nurses’ experiences of emotional labour

  • To inform interventions for supporting emergency department nurses with the emotional aspect of their role

Background Nurses in the emergency department (ED) work in emotionally charged situations and undertake extensive emotional labour. However, that labour is not visible to others, often overlooked and therefore undervalued. Furthermore, there is a lack of literature on the topic.

Aim To explore ED nurses’ experiences of emotional labour.

Methods In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with two staff nurses working in the ED of a large UK teaching hospital. Rigorous methods of data collection and analysis, including a strong reflexive stance, were adopted.

Findings Among three overarching themes that emerged from the data, two related more specifically to the ED: ‘precarious emotional labour’ and ‘grieving etiquette’. Participants were found to perform sophisticated forms of emotional labour to manage the precariousness of their role, and to conceal or suppress their own feelings in order to maintain the grieving etiquette.

Conclusion The ED is an environment that requires sophisticated but precarious forms of emotional labour. Recognising, valuing and supporting the emotional aspect of an ED nurse’s role is essential if emergency services are to remain functional, efficient and humane.

Emergency Nurse. doi: 10.7748/en.2020.e2039

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and has been checked for plagiarism using automated software



Conflict of interest

None declared

Kirk K, Edgley A (2020) Insights into nurses’ precarious emotional labour in the emergency department. Emergency Nurse. doi: 10.7748/en.2020.e2039

Published online: 30 October 2020

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