Some thoughts 

“Engaging in emotional labour (regulating one’s own emotions and those of others) requires adherence to the display rules of the role – the often – unwritten regulations governing a worker’s observed affect….” Needham et al (2017) p. 290 (1)
Emotional labour is a concept that I have been interested in for a long time – there is no doubt that how people emote in the work place is revealing. I have blogged about it before in that I stated that stress testing is for bridges not people. I believe that congruence (2) is a threshold concept for effective working and troublesome knowledge (3). I have really struggled with it and have resisted and felt repelled. I can feel the hostility and fear – I also find it difficult to hide what I am feeling and am increasingly aware how intolerant people are around me – put up and shut up. This is not an environment within which I can thrive – I can only give so much in support to others without some reciprocity. Part of me knows that I am picking up other people’s stuff and that I need to find ways of protecting myself, but it feels like really hard work.

 Being sensitive to these issues and drawing attention to them feels like a really important role to play – pointing out the bleeding obvious. I keep noticing stuff, but I seem to be the only one who is prepared to say anything out loud!! Self-compassion is the lesson and finding ways to respond to the inner critic that has been around for a very long time – at times I am 10, sometimes I am 15 and sometimes I am much older but learning to recognise my emotional response and picking up the evidence of which Sue is being triggered is beginning to help a lot. It is hard work and depletes my batteries but writing about it for this blog feels like a necessary next step.  

I now know that expressed congruence has an important function to play if we are to improve workplace environments. I think we should reverse engineer the issues around mental health within HE and instead of focussing on the individual and problematising worries, anxieties, low mood and low energy we should ask questions about why things are the way they are and what is happening for people. I am astonished at the “averted gaze”, particularly in Higher Education (4)– the blame and shame game – rather than courage and compassion (5). I am increasingly convinced that I need to share these thoughts and find a platform to develop the discussions, but old habits die hard and I can feel myself shutting down and freezing. 

Getting to the point of putting my head above the parapet seems important and that I need some help to process some of the traumatic events of 4 years ago. There is only so much you can do on your own and although I know I have understood a lot from writing and reflecting I also really believe that skilled therapists are an important intervention for modelling self-compassion and self-understanding. Being self-reliant and tough is overrated and asking for help not a weakness but a strength.


1. Needham et al (2017) The emotional labour of boundary spanning Journal of Integrated Care 25, 4 

2. Greenberg & Geller Congruence and Therapeutic Presence

3. Meyer and Land (2005) Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge

4. Wisniewski R (2000) The Averted Gaze Anthropology and Education Quarterly

5. Brene Brown – Braving the Wilderness 

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