Emotional self-management and its significance for well-being in service work

  • Conor Sheehan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study investigates service workers’ experiences of managing their emotions and
how they make sense of these in relation to their perceived well-being. It responds to
calls within the sociology of service work literature for a more definitive focus upon the
dynamic complexity of service agents’ ‘emotional self-management’ and their self-care
across, in addition to within, specific occupational contexts.
The still novel qualitative methodology, interpretative phenomenological analysis (‘IPA’)
was adopted because of its emphasis upon gathering experiential data from a first
person viewpoint. This choice of IPA was innovative, not only because of its virtual
invisibility in service research to date, but also because it was methodologically
augmented using artefact elicitation technique. A purposive, non-random, sample of
twelve participants was drawn, six from each of two specific occupational groups; air
cabin crew and nurses, with respondents participating in a series of in-depth, loosely
structured interviews over an extended timeframe. The findings revealed that three key
relationships lay at the heart of how participants made sense of their emotional
experiences; service agents’ themselves, their interaction with working colleagues and
those whom they served. Relationships were played out within dynamic climates of
authenticity, falseness, loyalty or betrayal and often interpreted by respondents in terms
of their inherent degrees of truth, trust, dignity and pride.
This study contributes to contextual and theoretical understanding by offering fresh
insights on service agents’ emotional experiences as mediating influences in their socially
constructed sense of selves and their well-being. This is one of very few studies which
emphasise idiographic contexts within the broader patterns of worker–customer
relations, transcending the traditionally delineated occupational boundaries of nursing
and commercial service work. New knowledge has been created by considering
individuals’ feelings about their work in this way thus prompting a reconsideration of
emotion effort in terms of its complexity, challenge and occupational context.
Date of AwardSept 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorGraham Stew (Supervisor)

Cite this