Emotional labour and the experience of emotional exhaustion amongst customer service representatives in a call centre
In the new service economy organisations have to distinguish themselves from their competitors in terms of the quality of their service delivery. In order to attain this new goal organisations realise the important role that customers play in their success. Organisations also recognize that modern day customers have different wants and higher expectations regarding service delivery compared to only a decade ago. To live up to these new challenges a novel form of conducting business was introduced to the global labour market: Telephone call centres provide quality and efficient service in the most cost-effective way possible by, inter alia, utilising customer service representatives (CSRs) to attend to clients’ each and every need – this job demand is termed emotional labour. Due to the way in which the CSRs’ work is structured and the wide-ranging demands placed on them, these individuals experience countless and varied stressors on the job. The result, in a nutshell, is that CSRs become emotionally exhausted and eventually leave the call centre. The purpose of the present research study is, therefore, to identify to what extent emotional labour influences CSRs’ feelings of emotional exhaustion, and whether the latter results in detrimental outcomes that undermine organisations’ success and competitive advantage in the marketplace. A large organisation’s call centre operators participated in the study (n = 84). Seven focus groups were conducted for the purpose of qualitative data collection: Six groups consisted of CSRs (N = 30) and one group consisted of team leaders (N = 4). Qualitative content analysis was used to analyse the focus group interviews. The participants (n = 84) also completed questionnaires measuring emotional labour, emotional exhaustion, supervisor support, organisational commitment, and intentions to leave. Analysis of the interview data supported the existence of the five theoretical constructs and additional sources of job stress, over and above emotional labour, were identified. Pearson product-moment correlation analysis was used to analyse the questionnaire data, followed by multiple regression analysis with organisational commitment and intentions to leave as dependent variables, and the remaining constructs as the predictors. After determining the fit of the measurement model, consisting of the five constructs, a structural model was tested. Both the measurement and structural models produced acceptable goodness-of-fit statistics. The results of the structural model did not indicate a significant correlation between the total construct emotional labour and emotional exhaustion. Significant correlations were found between emotional labour and supervisor support, emotional exhaustion and organisational commitment and intentions to leave respectively, and organisational commitment and intentions to leave. Multiple regression analysis indicated emotional exhaustion is a significant predictor of both lowered organisational commitment and increased intentions to leave. Structural equation modelling indicated emotional exhaustion is causally related to intentions to leave through organisational commitment. The findings are congruent with previous research on the detrimental effect of emotional exhaustion on organisational outcomes and illuminate the complex relationship between emotional labour and emotional exhaustion. Interventions minimising the impact of both emotional labour and emotional exhaustion, within a call centre environment, are explored.