Emotional labour and Aboriginal maternal infant care workers: The invisible load

Renae Kirkham, Alice Rumbold, Elizabeth Hoon, D. Stuart-Butler, Vivienne Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The term ‘emotional labour’ has been used to describe the competing demands on midwives to empathize with clients whilst maintaining a level of professional detachment. Previous research indicates that when individuals experience difficulty managing these emotions, burnout may result. Aboriginal health care workers often have roles with large emotional demands, as they are relied upon heavily to engage clients in care. However, the concept of emotional labour has received little attention in relation to this group.

Aim: To explore potential sources of emotional labour for Aboriginal Maternal Infant Care workers in a maternity care program for Aboriginal women in South Australia. The program involves these workers providing care for women in partnership with midwives.

Methods: We employed a phenomenological approach. Thirty in-depth interviews were conducted with staff and clients of the program. Recorded interviews were transcribed and coded and emerging themes identified.

Findings: This workforce undertakes extensive emotional labour. Key sources include the cultural and family obligations they have to clients, complex social needs of many clients, and potential for community backlash when poor perinatal outcomes occur. A lack of respect for the role within the workplace further contributes to these experiences.

This study found that the responsibilities inherent to the role as both cultural broker and carer create significant emotional labour for workers. Recommendations to address this and enhance the sustainability of this workforce include: recognition and valuing of emotional work by management and other staff, enhancing cultural awareness training, and building stress-relieving activities into the workplace.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-116
Number of pages7
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number2
Early online date2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


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