June 15, 2024

Vitavo Yage

Best Health Creates a Happy Life

How Can Health Care Leaders Help Their Followers Feel Better?

3 min read

In the wake of the pandemic, health care staff shortages are the biggest threat to global health care. Health care workers are struggling to cope with demand, leaving systems short-staffed and putting lives at risk. One of the big reasons workers have for leaving their health care jobs is the stress and emotional demands that they have to face on a day-to-day basis.

Cedric Fauntleroy/pexels

Healthcare workers face emotional strain

Source: Cedric Fauntleroy/pexels

This week, new research from my team, led by Dr Hannah Kunst, looked at whether job satisfaction in health care workers is linked to the strategies that health care leaders use to help their followers feel better. This research was published in the Australian Journal of Management. Researchers from The University of Sydney and Zhejiang University collected data from 337 health care workers and 54 health care leaders from a Chinese hospital at the beginning of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study looked at two different strategies leaders might use to help their followers feel better:

  1. Cognitive reappraisal. Cognitive reappraisal involves trying to reframe the meaning of an event that is causing an emotion. Thinking differently about what has happened often allows people to feel a bit better about things. Leaders can help their followers see things differently by providing an alternative interpretation for a stressful event. Maybe the patient who cried in frustration was exhausted and confused (not angry with the worker).
  2. Expressive suppression. Expressive suppression involves trying to hide the expression of emotion in face, voice, or body language so that the people around you cannot see how you feel. Hiding the expression of your emotions can be necessary if your job requires a high degree of emotional labor. This is true of health care jobs, where workers are often tasked with expressing sympathy or remaining outwardly calm in stressful environments. Leaders can encourage follows to suppress their emotions, sometimes directly instructing workers to look or act a certain way (hide those tears; lets put on a happy face, etc).

Health care workers were asked to rate how much their leader used different strategies to help the worker regulate their emotions. Items such as “My team leader discussed different ways of interpreting the situation” were used to measure cognitive reappraisal. Items such as “My team leader encouraged me to hide how I was feeling.”

These two strategies had very different effects.

  • Leaders who used more cognitive reappraisal had followers who felt more positive emotions (like pride and happiness) at work. These followers also felt more satisfied with their jobs one month later.
  • Leaders who used more expressive suppression had followers who experienced more negative emotions (like fear and sadness) at work. These followers also felt less satisfied with their jobs one month later.

Taken together, these findings suggest that health care workers who receive more cognitive reappraisal from their leaders might feel more positive emotions, increasing their job satisfaction. In contrast, health care workers who are told to hide their emotions feel more negative emotions at work, decreasing their job satisfaction.

There is an important takeaway for health care leaders. To support health care workers, it helps to reframe the meaning of difficult events. Workers may feel better and be more satisfied if they can see a silver lining on a difficult day. But helping them to hide their emotions doesn’t make the emotions go away. Workers tend to feel worse when told to hide how they feel and have lower job satisfaction.

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