Emotional Labor, Role Characteristics, and Police Officer Burnout in South Korea: The Mediating Effect of Emotional Dissonance

AuthorSusan McNeeley,Hyounggon Kwak,Sung-Hwan Kim
Published date01 June 2018
Date01 June 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Emotional Labor, Role
Characteristics, and
Police Officer Burnout
in South Korea: The
Mediating Effect of
Emotional Dissonance
Hyounggon Kwak
, Susan McNeeley
and Sung-Hwan Kim
This study examines the extent to which emotional labor and role stressors (such as
role conflict and ambiguity) required of police officers contribute to police officer
burnout. In particular, it is hypothesized that these aspects of police work cause
officers to experience emotional dissonance, thereby leading to burnout. To test
these hypotheses, we conduct mediation analyses using survey data from 466 police
officers in Seoul, South Korea. Overall, emotional labor, role stressors, and
emotional dissonance are related to greater police officer burnout. In addition,
there were several significant indirect effects between emotional labor, role
stressors, and burnout, via emotional dissonance.
burnout, emotional dissonance, police, role stressor
University of Arkansas at Little Rock, AR, USA
Minnesota Department of Corrections, Saint Paul, MN, USA
Dongguk University, Gyeongju, South Korea
Corresponding Author:
Hyounggon Kwak, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, AR, USA.
Email: hxkwak1@ualr.edu
Police Quarterly
2018, Vol. 21(2) 223–249
!The Author(s) 2018
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611118757230
A substantial body of literature has documented that police officers have a high
risk of suffering from job burnout, with symptoms such as job dissatisfaction,
psychological distress, suicidal ideation, alcohol abuse, physical health prob-
lems, and divorce (Bishopp & Boots, 2014; Brown, Fielding, & Grover, 1999;
Gershon, Barocas, Canton, Li, & Vlahov, 2009; He, Zhao, & Ren, 2005; Kop,
Euwema, & Schaufeli, 1999; Kurtz, Zavala, & Melander, 2015; Martinussen,
Richardsen, & Burke, 2007; Morash et al., 2008; Violanti, 1997). These prob-
lems result in mounting costs for police agencies due to the resulting health
issues and high turnover. In addition, burnout increases officers’ aggressive
attitudes and support for the use of force (Kop & Euwema, 2001; Queiros,
Kaiseler, & DaSilva, 2013). Due to the high risk of burnout among police
officers as well as its negative consequences, it is imperative to reduce burnout,
which requires scholars to identify factors that contribute to it.
Many scholars argue that burnout is common among the police because
officers work in unpredictable and dangerous circumstances (Adams & Buck,
2010; Anshel, 2000; Dowler, 2005; Manzoni & Eisner, 2006). In addition, police
departments have become more focused on community-oriented policing in
response to public demands for greater accountability and legitimacy (Kwak
& McNeeley, 2017), bringing police officers into frequent interaction with the
public, which can increase job stress (Bayley & Shearing, 1996; Paoline, Myers,
& Worden, 2000; Seron, Pereira, & Kovath, 2004).
Given these aspects of policing, officers are frequently required to inhibit
their true feelings and instead express a variety of emotions compatible with
the organization’s needs and expectations (McCarty & Skogan, 2013; Schaible &
Six, 2016). This seems to be consonant with emotional labor, or “the act of
displaying socially desirable emotions during interpersonal interactions or ser-
vice transactions” (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993, pp. 88–89). As a consequence
of this emotional labor, police officers’ felt emotions may not match with the
emotional displays they must perform—a phenomenon known as emotional
dissonance—which can, in turn, contribute to burnout (Bakker & Heuven,
2006; Hochschild, 1983; Schaible & Gecas, 2010; Van Gelderen, Heuven, Van
Veldhoven, Zeelenberg, & Croon, 2007; Van Gelderen, Konijn, & Bakker, 2017;
Zapf, 2002). In addition, the police role is a complex interaction between an
individual’s interpretation of the role and the formal and informal interpreta-
tions held by the police organization (Violanti, 1997). This complexity, intensi-
fied by the competing philosophies in modern policing, can lead to stress
associated with the police officer’s work role, which is associated with burnout
(Lee & Ashforth, 1993).
The existing literature on police officer burnout has provided valuable
information; still, some limitations of prior work reduce our understanding of
this issue. First, past studies have examined the effects of emotional labor
224 Police Quarterly 21(2)

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