Emotional Labour in Child and Family Social Work Teams: A Hybrid Ethnography

Carder, Sara (2023) Emotional Labour in Child and Family Social Work Teams: A Hybrid Ethnography. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Child and family social work – particularly child protection - is recognised as an emotionally demanding job with implications for worker resilience, retention, and the quality of decision-making for vulnerable children and families. The requirement to manage and display emotions as part of the professional role involves emotional labour (Hochschild 1983) which creates a performative aspect to social work practice which can be experienced as emotionally demanding. Support to manage these emotional demands is therefore vital. To date, dominant discourses of emotional resilience, critical reflection, emotional intelligence, and emotional labour have largely focused on a) the individual social worker’s capacity to manage or b) collegial peer support. Despite the recognition that these forms of support are enacted within the team setting, few studies have taken the team as the primary focus of research. Existing ethnographic studies that have explored support at the team level have largely considered the management of anxiety through a psycho-social paradigm (e.g., through the concept of emotional containment). Other studies have focused on participants’ retrospective accounts of managing the emotional demands of practice using interviews and surveys rather than examining how team support is enacted and experienced on a day-to-day basis. Few studies have considered the performative nature of practice and how team support is enacted across the increasingly online and hybrid spaces inhabited by the social work team.

This study addresses these gaps by using innovative hybrid ethnographic methods to understand the role of team support in two child and family social work teams in local authorities rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. This study examines how everyday activities, relationships, and interactions across physical and online team settings either support or hinder social workers to manage the emotional demands of practice. Drawing on Hochschild’s (1983) concept of emotional labour and Goffman’s (1959) dramaturgy, this study builds upon the ‘team as a secure base’ (Biggart et al 2017), ‘team as containment’ (Ruch 2007) and team as a ‘community of coping’ (Cook and Carder 2023, Korczynski 2003) by providing a novel framework for conceptualising the performative nature of team support. The ‘theatre model of team support’ considers how social work teams help to manage the emotional demands of practice by exploring the interdependent nature of 1) where the team is situated (setting), 2) who the individual team members are (roles) and 3) how stories about practice, the team and the wider profession are told (scripts). This in turn has important practice implications at an individual, team, organisational and macro level.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Social Work
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2023 09:20
Last Modified: 02 Nov 2023 09:20
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/93530

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