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Deadline: 30 September 2020

Managing Emotional Labour in the Public Sector

New Public Management (NPM) reforms, introduced in most OECD countries in the early 1980s, and, more recently, the austerity policies of the past decade, aimed to increase economy and efficiency in the public sector. However, the effects of efficiency maximizing work practices have been detrimental to the public sector workforce. It led to negative work outcomes, such as workplace harassment, impended employee wellbeing and reduced workplace engagement for street-level bureaucrats. Some effects on public service users have also been noted, such as compromised client safety. Arguably, emotional labour plays a role in explaining these effects. ‘Emotional labour’ is the energy required from employees to deliver the appearance of emotions which are formally expected (such a patience, empathy or enthusiasm), but is at odds with their real emotions. Emotional labour has not been quantified in the way other work aspects have (allowing no slack to manage it), and additional emotional labour has been placed on public servants whose jobs were threatened and who were asked to do more with less (fewer resources and fewer colleagues).

Street-level bureaucrats and their managers have been particularly affected by the structural changes imposed on the public sector globally, but particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries. While discretionary power is a desirable trait of this employee group, because it is associated with professional autonomy (for professionals such as doctors, nurses, and teachers), it has led to increased levels of work intensification and work harassment emerging from the pressure of work quantification and the complexity of clients’ needs. It is an increasingly delicate balancing act for street-level bureaucrats (professionals and administrative) to negotiate a path that satisfies their professional obligations within the constraining organizational parameters such as inadequate resourcing, red tape and ever decreasing organizational slack, while maintaining their wellbeing.


The COVID-19 pandemic has now amplified the task demands on public servants, especially for those in emergencies services (healthcare, policing, military). It has also exposed gaps in service delivery, institutional memory and, most significantly, gaps in workforce (Cowper, 2020). The emotional labour entailed in dealing with pandemic related, or crisis related more generally, workforce challenges, cannot be underestimated. Emotional labour is also more intensive given the enhanced discretionary decision-making to meet unprecedented and/or very urgent client needs. Managing emotional labour has never been more important to understand, and the way to do so during crises can leave an important legacy for managing it during business as usual.

Call for submissions

This PMM theme calls for new research pushing forward our understanding of which leadership models can best manage emotional labour in the public and NFP sectors, and now extends the call to include an understanding of managing emotional labour in times of crisis. We call for new research that empirically examines, but is not limited to:

  • The role of emotions in coping with organizational challenges (during business as usual but also during crises of different types and intensity).
  • How different types of public sector employees delivering services to the public are impacted by emotional labour.
  • Emotional labour in relationships between public sector professionals with different client groups in various public services, particularly in the context of co-design, co-production and value co-creation in public services.
  • Management models either hindering or supporting emotional labour (during different levels of crisis).
  • Negotiating emotional labour within various accountability regimes.
  • Emotional labour in relation to management control packages, motivation and performance.
  • Managing emotional labour in the gendered professions.

Public Money & Management

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Guest Editors:

  • Yvonne Brunetto, Southern Cross University, Australia
  • Adina Dudau, University of Glasgow, UK

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Submission Guidelines

As well as research papers (up to 8000 words including references), the theme will include a debate articles (up to 1000 words) and new development articles (up to 2500 words). 

Debate and new development articles will be reviewed by the guest editors (please send to Adina.Dudau@glasgow.ac.uk) and research papers will double-blind refereed by both an academic and a practitioner. Please view the journal's Instructions for Authors prior to submitting an article.

The deadline for submissions of original 8,000-word articles is 30 September 2020. Submit via the PMM website and select the special issue: Managing emotional labour in the public sector.

About PMM

PMM has a strong reputation for joining up research and practice, as well as disciplines and professional specialties. It has been publishing for nearly 40 years, now with eight issues a year. PMM articles are reviewed by a practitioner and an academic to ensure that they are readable and useful in the real world. PMM’s circulation includes over 15,000 CIPFA members and students, as well as central government departments, local authorities and international universities.

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