By: Sharon Mastracci
Mary Guy and Meredith Newman have each influenced public administration practice and scholarship, long before they shaped my career. Long before they introduced emotional labor to the study of public administration, each was an emotional laborer in the public service trenches. Professor Newman served at the highest levels in the Australian Foreign Service, the US Department of State, and the World Bank. Professor Guy served on the front lines as a health care service provider in Augusta, Georgia, and at the South Carolina State Hospital. As scholars, they spent years examining gender in public administration and trends in women’s employment. In 2004, they integrated the literature on gender and emotional labor in a lead article in Public Administration Review, launching an active and rewarding research agenda on emotions in public service. The chart below illustrates how research on the human dimensions of human resource management has grown in the public sector; specifically, emotional labor in public service.
This tool—dimensions.ai—includes a few private-sector human resource management journals, but mostly captures increasing scholarly activity on emotional labor in public personnel administration over the past 20 years. Research has grown over time and continues to trend up. Emotional labor is the effort to express the appropriate demeanor and suppress inappropriate expressions, were “appropriate” and “inappropriate” are determined by the occupation, industry, and/or place of work. As mentioned, Mary and Meredith were emotional laborers in public service well before they were scholars of emotional labor in public service. They embodied the discretion of the diplomat and the compassion of the counselor. Their 2004 article highlighted the relational aspects of public administration, and how government work relies heavily on emotive skills. Back then, when we would ask public servants about the emotional labor demands of their jobs, most of the men would reject any role for emotions in their work, while for most of the women, emotions at work resonated immediately. Once given a vocabulary to describe it, we almost always heard that emotional labor was part of nearly every minute of every day of public service work. In fact, we have since argued that the high-stakes nature of public service work and the economics of public goods render emotional labor more critical to government work than the more extensively-researched private sector.
Guy and Newman (2004) moved the needle on public administration research and practice by illuminating the crucial role of emotional labor to the delivery of public services. In this important article, they trace the development of public administration from systems analysis and the enduring influence of scientific management and rationality on research and practice. Research on public personnel administration could no longer ignore emotions and, with respect to practice, Newman and Guy (2004) underscored the importance of capturing emotional labor in job descriptions, performance evaluations, and pay scales. Because of Mary and Meredith’s insights, research has dug deeper and spread farther: Generations of new scholars have emerged to interrogate various aspects of emotions in public organizations and to examine emotions in public service worldwide.