The emotional labour and toll of faculty leadership in higher education

Year: 2019

Author: Heffernan, Troy, Bosetti, Lynn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper draws on interview data sourced from faculty leaders (sometimes referred to as deans or heads of school) from approximately 20 Australian universities. Hochschild’s The Managed Heart discussed an increasing need for employers to have their staff manage their emotions so that they only express those deemed appropriate to a given situation and suppress those which are deemed to be inappropriate. Managing emotions is thus seen to add an element of ‘emotional labour’ in many industries.

Emotional labour has been discussed in the literature from the perspective of retail or hospitality employees needing to smile and pleasantly interact with customers, to presidents and CEOs of the world’s largest companies knowing that controlling their emotions is often good for business and profits. While a body of research regarding emotional labour has been produced, the impact of emotional labour on educational leaders usually focuses on university vice-chancellors and presidents or school principals, with faculty leaders being a rarely-explored group.

The complexities of emotional labour on faculty leaders warrants discussions on two fronts. First, faculty leaders regularly interact with a diverse group of people ranging from students, casual employees, early and mid-career researchers, to professors. These groups all hold different power dynamics and expectations, and a faculty leader’s subjectivity and dynamics shift in their interactions with each group. This paper discusses examples such as faculty leaders needing to be empathetic towards students facing challenges, or leaders needing to portray a calm outlook at hostile faculty meetings. It also examines the issues of leadership that are underrepresented in research, such as the complex emotional interactions and relationships for leaders at the deans’ level, and a lack of policy and support available to people at that level of higher education leadership hierarchies.

Many roles in higher education are evolving, including the role of faculty leaders. The faculty leader is no longer exclusively the senior academic of the department guiding research and teaching, they are now also business administrators with ever increasing performance targets while leading student populations who have growing consumer-like expectations. This paper explores some of the implications of these changing expectations and contexts for the work and emotions of faculty leaders.