Emotional labour in palliative and end-of-life care communication: A qualitative study with generalist palliative care providers

Lisa Jane Brighton*, Lucy Ellen Selman, Katherine Bristowe, Beth Edwards, Jonathan Koffman, Catherine J. Evans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
1071 Downloads (Pure)


To explore generalist palliative care providers’ experiences of emotional labour when undertaking conversations around palliative and end-of-life care with patients and families, to inform supportive strategies.

Semi-structured interviews conducted with generalist staff (those providing ‘primary’ or ‘general’ palliative care, not palliative care specialists) who had attended a communication workshop. Sampling was purposive (by gender, profession, experience). Data were analysed using a framework approach; a sample of transcripts were double-coded for rigour. Data collection and analysis were informed by theories of emotional labour, coping, and communication.

Four ambulance staff, three nurses, two speech and language therapists, and one therapy assistant were interviewed. Five themes emerged: emotions experienced; emotion ‘display rules’; emotion management; support needs; and perceived impact of emotional labour. Participants reported balancing ‘human’ and ‘professional’ expressions of emotion. Support needs included time for emotion management, workplace cultures that normalise emotional experiences, formal emotional support, and palliative and end-of-life care skills training.

Diverse strategies to support the emotional needs of generalist staff are crucial to ensure high-quality end-of-life care and communication, and to support staff well-being.

Practice implications
Both formal and informal support is required, alongside skills training, to enable a supportive workplace culture and individual development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)494-502
Number of pages9
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number3
Early online date17 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Communication
  • Education
  • Emotions
  • Palliative care
  • Qualitative research
  • Terminal care


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