Thesis (DCM)

What is emotional labour for coaches?


Emotional labour (EL) is the activity of maintaining an appropriate outward demeanour at work. Whilst EL studies proliferate in many sectors and roles, no such work has been conducted in the field of coaching to identify the role of EL. The aim of this research is to explore the presence, experience and effects of EL from the perspective of the coach in their practice. The study employed a phenomenological approach, using Conceptual Encounter methodology. One-to-one interviews and group discussions with 15 coaches and supervisors of coaching surfaced instances of EL both in and out of the coaching ‘room’. Coaches described their experiences and contexts where EL was present, and the ‘display rules’ to which they were striving to adhere. EL in coaching presented as the drive to display an acceptable ‘face’, to both coachees and those around coaching, which satisfied the coach’s own perceptions of professional coaching. This study found disparate and varied perceptions of display rules in coaching practice, a weak influence of professional standards, and a disconnect between the presentation of coaching to stakeholders / payers and the act of coaching itself. Coaches’ experiences of EL had high commonality with outcomes in other fields and roles, such as impacts on authenticity, detachment, resource drain and ‘burnout’. Other themes of the study include coaching as a maturing profession in relation to behavioural norms, and a questionable approach to organisational contracting from coaches. In addition, those coaches who employed ‘use of self’ as the primary instrument of coaching experienced less EL in the coaching dyad. This empirical study contributes to the coaching literature by surfacing the presence of EL in coaching, and the emergence and naming of commercial EL in the contracting dynamic may contribute to the EL literature overall. These findings have implications for coaches, along with supervisors, educators and trainers of coaches, and professional associations for the preservation and well-being of the coach. In addition, organisational contractors of coaching may benefit from a better understanding of the EL dynamic (particularly commercial EL), and how external coaches may ‘fit’ within their contexts.

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Kemp, Robert


Supervisors: Bachkirova, Tatiana; Iordanou, Ioanna

Oxford Brookes departments

Oxford Brookes Business School


Year: 2021

© Kemp, Robert
Published by Oxford Brookes University
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