Acknowledged in: Emotional Display Rules for [school] workers in Pennsylvania K-12 public school organizations

Pfister L.L. (2015). Emotional Display Rules for clerical workers, teachers, custodians, and cafeteria workers in Pennsylvania K-12 public school organizations. Doctoral dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved from

Abstract: Over the last century, the service industry became the greatest provider of jobs in the United States. A key part of service professions are the interactions between employees and customers. During these interactions, employees are likely to express emotions (Rafaeli and Sutton, 1987). In 1983, Hochschild (1983/2012) researched these interactions and developed the theory of emotional labor. Understanding the importance of employee and customer interactions, research of the theory in the retail and hospitality industries developed. The same is beginning to occur in the field of K-12 education.

Schools now compete for students making customer service an important aspect of daily operations (Cucchiara, Gold, & Simon, 2011). Interactions between school employees, students, and parents affect retention and recruitment causing the need to provide employees with guidance to ensure positive interactions. Display rules are an operational part of emotional labor, which guide emotional expressions by employees. While emotional display rules offer employees guidelines to do their jobs successfully (Diefendorff & Gosserand, 2003), existing research of K-12 teachers and administrators shows display rules are implied not explicit. The creation of display rules is the responsibility of the organization (Rafaeli and Sutton, 1987), but as of this time, there is no known research of emotional display rules from the perspective of the K-12 organization.

This research began to address this by conducting a survey of the Pennsylvania Association of School Personnel Administrators membership, which explored the extent to which K-12 public school organizations in Pennsylvania provide and communicate emotional display rules to secretaries (administrative assistants), teachers, custodians, and cafeteria workers. The overall findings indicate Pennsylvania K-12 public school organizations provide emotional display rules rarely to often depending upon employee group. The display rules were more likely to exist for expressions of concern and calmness than for anger and frustration. In addition, the personnel administrators identified individual conversations as the most commonly used method to communicate display rules across employee groups. The findings provide implications for practice and future research for the employee groups individually and collectively.

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