Invisible emotions: Is your staff supported to meet the emotional demands of leadership?

Dr Mandi Baker1, Professor Tonia Gray2
1Torrens University, Sydney, Australia; 2Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia


Meaningful interpersonal interactions are essential to successful outdoor learning (OL) experiences. In the quest to deliver optimal OL experiences, leaders draw on their emotional literacy to engage with many stakeholders. The commodification of these exchanges is termed emotion work. Emotion work relies on the management of feelings in order to publicly display and embody particular emotions in the service of a promised or expected interaction and/or experience (Hochschild, 2012). Irrefutably, emotion work holds significant economic value.

Unfortunately, the level of emotion work involved in leadership roles is often invisible and pernicious (Gray, Bates, Graham and Han, 2019). For instance, the ‘emotional labour’ and ‘collaborative glue’ people bring to the workplace is often covert and unquantifiable (Gray et al, 2019). Recruitment, staff development, performance appraisal, retention efforts and employment practices fail to recognise the emotional demands required of these roles. While research on emotion work in outdoor leadership is limited (see Baker 2019), its side-effects (i.e., burnout and impediments to career longevity), have been explored (Edwards and Gray, 1998, Gray and Birrell, 2003; 2005; Wright & Gray, 2013).

This 2019 qualitative case study drew on focus group discussions with 49 participants, 47 reflective journals and three brainstorming sessions. Preliminary descriptive data analysis suggests that:
1.) the emotion work of research participants was complex, frequent and intense;
2.) the value and cost of emotion work often went unnoticed by the staff themselves and, while staff acknowledged the need for self-care, their strategies were not always well aligned; and
3.) managers wanted to address staff fatigue but were unaware of how to systematically support the emotion work of staff.

We conclude by exploring alternative ways that emotion work can be supported via: the development of self-care strategies; instilling an organisational ethic which promotes ‘community care’; and system strategies that promote wellbeing.

Mandi Baker is a researcher with a special interest in organised outdoor experiences, youth, community development, employment and management practices, recreation and leisure. Her work explores everyday work experiences through sociological concepts of discourses, power relations and emotions in order to offer innovative solutions to employability, leadership and education.

Professor Tonia Gray researches our estranged human-nature relationship and its impact on child development and well-being, an area known as Eco-pedagogies. For over three decades, Tonia has written extensively on nature-based practices in teacher education and has been an advocate of infusing outdoor and ‘green’ learning experiences into Australia’s National Curriculum renewal process.

About OEA and Outdoors NSW

Outdoor Education Australia (OEA)  was established in 2006 as a national network of outdoor education associations. The organisation facilitates communication between state and territory outdoor education associations about the practice and delivery of outdoor education; advocates for outdoor education across primary, secondary and tertiary education; and provides policy advice.

Outdoors NSW is the go-to place for all things outdoors in NSW.

The peak body for the outdoors in NSW, the organisation, (formerly known as ORIC), represents the outdoor community, advances outdoor standards, safety and practices, and fosters greater participation in the outdoors.

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