The emotional labour of boundary spanning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
195 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Within public services there is a widely recognised role for workers who operate across organisational and professional boundaries. Much of this literature focusses on the organisational implications rather than on how boundary spanners engage with citizens. An increased number of public service roles require boundary spanning to support citizens with cross-cutting issues. The purpose of this paper is to explicate the emotional labour within the interactions that boundary spanners have with citizens, requiring adherence to display rules and building trust.

Design/methodology/approach: This is a conceptual paper which draws on illustrative examples to draw out the emotional labour within two types of boundary spanning: explicit and emergent.

Findings: Emotional labour theory offers a way to classify these interactions as requiring high, medium or low degrees of emotional labour. Boundary spanning theory contributes an understanding of how emotional labour is likely to be differently experienced depending on whether the boundary spanning is an explicit part of the job, or an emergent property.

Originality/value: Drawing on examples from public service work in a range of advanced democracies, the authors make a theoretical argument, suggesting that a more complete view of boundary spanning must account for individual-level affect and demands upon workers. Such a focus captures the “how” of the boundary spanning public encounter, and not just the institutional, political and organisational dimensions examined in most boundary spanning literatures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-300
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Integrated Care
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2017


  • Emotion
  • Integration
  • Professionals


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