Exploring the dimensionality of emotional labor: the case of the Malaysian hospitality industry.
A review of past emotion work revealed that emotional labor has been variously conceptualized, suggesting a lack of consensus on its dimensionality. This could be a key reason for the conflicting findings reported in past research. Clearly, the dimensionality of emotional labor warrants to be validated so as to facilitate understanding of emotional labor and its relationships with other factors under different circumstances. The present paper discusses the findings of a study conducted to investigate the dimensionality of Brotheridge and Lee's (1998) emotional labor scale within a non-western context. Survey questionnaires were used to collect data from a total of 137 hotel employees in east Malaysia. The results provided empirical evidence that of the theorized 6 dimensions only 2 dimensions are capable of explaining sufficient variation in the construct under study. The findings essentially support Grandey's (2000) notion that surface acting and deep acting are the true components of emotional labor. Implications and limitations of the study are also discussed.

Keywords: Emotional labor; Dimensionality; Hotel employees; Malaysia

Hospitality industry (Human resource management)
Hospitality industry (Industry forecasts)
Emotion regulation (Analysis)
Hwa, Ang Magdalene Chooi
Thurasamy, Ramayah
Wafa, Syed Azizi
Pub Date:
Name: International Journal of Business Research Publisher: International Academy of Business and Economics Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business, international Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 International Academy of Business and Economics ISSN: 1555-1296
Date: Jan, 2010 Source Volume: 10 Source Issue: 1
Event Code: 280 Personnel administration; 010 Forecasts, trends, outlooks Computer Subject: Company personnel management
Geographic Scope: Malaysia Geographic Code: 9MALA Malaysia
Accession Number:
Full Text:

The term "emotional labor" was first coined by Hochshild (1983) and is used to refer to the expression of organizationally desired emotions by service workers during interpersonal transactions or encounters with clients (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Hochschild, 1983). Previous work in this area generally supports Hochschild's (1983) proposition that emotional labor does and can have both functional and dysfunctional consequences for the individual and the organization. In a similar vein, Morris and Feldman (1996) and Kim (2008) regard emotional labor as having double-edged effects: It can have positive influence on organizational success but negative impact on employees' well-being.

A review of the extant literature, however, revealed that the findings on the consequences of emotional labor remain conflicting. One plausible reason could be that emotional labor has been operationalized in various ways. Some researchers view emotional labor as a two-dimensional construct (e.g., Brotheridge & Grandey, 2002; Grandey, 2000; Gross, 1998; Kruml & Geddes, 2000), whereas others opt for a multidimensional perspective (e.g., Brotheridge & Lee, 1998; 2003; Diefendorff, Croyle, & Gosserand, 2005; Morris & Feldman, 1996). Clearly, there is a lack of consensus about the dimensionality of emotional labor. Given the above, our study hoped to add to the research stream by further clarifying the dimensionality of emotional labor in the Malaysian setting. Specifically, we assessed the validity (content, construct, convergent, nomological, and discriminant) and reliability of Brotheridge and Lee's (1998) six-dimensional scale of emotional labor. The remainder of the paper is organized in the following manner: First, the concept of emotional labor including its consequences and dimensionality will be explored. Next, we will detail the research methodology and the findings. Finally, the implications and limitations of the study will be presented.


Emotional labor is said to have double-edged effects such that it enhances organizational success but at the same time is detrimental to employees' well-being. At the organizational level, there has been a growing connection of emotional labor to economic trends (Zeithaml, Parasuraman, & Berry, 1990) such that surface acting and deep acting enable employees to successfully achieve organizational goals (Johnson, 2004). Specifically, it has been reported that emotional labor influences perception of service quality (Bowen, Siehl, & Schneider, 1989), affects customer loyalty, repeat business, financial gains (Heskett, Schlesinger, & Sasser, 1997), client satisfaction and organizational productivity (Meier, Mastracci, & Wilson, 2006). On the other hand, research conducted at the individual level has typically demonstrated that emotional labor can affect workers' well-being (Johnson & Spector, 2007), job satisfaction (Ang, Rostinah, Japang, & Nasah, 2009; Jones, 1998; Yang & Chang, 2008), emotional exhaustion (Ang et al., 2009; Johnson & Spector, 2007; Kim, 2008), organizational commitment (Abraham, 1999; Yang & Chang, 2008), intent to leave (Abraham, 1999), turnover (Meier et al., 2006), work-family conflict (Seery, Corrigall, & Harpel, 2008), and so forth. Generally, the influence of emotional labor on employee outcomes such as health, psychological well-being, and work attitudes has generally been reported to be less favorable. However, some studies (e.g., Adelmann, 1995; Johnson, 2004; Wharton, 1993) have reported otherwise. For instance, Wharton (1993) did not find a negative relationship but a positive relationship between emotional labor and job satisfaction. Wharton's (1993) argument is that the positive or negative outcome of emotional labor on employee outcomes depends on the performance technique which the employee chooses to use. For instance, some researchers (Gross, 1989; King & Emmons, 1990; Smith, 1992) reported that suppressing negative emotions (i.e., surface acting) over time can cause a variety of ailments such as high blood pressure and cancer. Conversely, the expression of positive emotions (i.e., to deep acting) may bring about physiological changes that can in turn enhance employees' well-being (Zajonc, 1985).

The majority of past research assessing the relationship between emotional labor and employee outcomes has in fact demonstrated that deep acting leads to more favorable outcomes than does surface acting (Kim, 2008). Still, empirical findings in other studies remain inconsistent (Van Dijk & Kirk, 2006). For instance, Brotheridge and Lee (2003) and Grandey (2003) did not find support for the association between deep acting and emotional exhaustion. As mentioned earlier, the reason for these conflicting findings could be due to the varying conceptualizations of emotional labor. Several researchers (e.g., Fisher & Ashkanasy, 2000; Grandey, 2000) propound that if discussing the consequences of emotional labor without fully understanding its dimensionality, researchers will continue to produce fragmented works that can further bring about more confusion to the area of study. Given that, this study attempts to shed more light on the dimensionality of emotional labor by drawing evidence from an east Malaysian sample. Understanding the dimensions of emotional labor would allow researchers to better differentiate emotional labor and clarify its relationships with various factors under different circumstances.


Emotion work has churned out various perspectives of emotional labor, ranging from two dimensions (e.g., Brotheridge & Grandey, 2002; Grandey, 2000; Gross, 1998; Kruml & Geddes, 2000) to multidimensions (e.g., Brotheridge & Lee, 1998; 2003; Diefendorff et al., 2005; Morris & Feldman, 1996). This section will discuss the various conceptualizations of emotional labor found in the literature. It will then deliberate on Brotheridge and Lee's (1998) emotional labor scale which is the scale under study.

In investigating how it was incumbent upon service agents to manage their emotions as part of the job, Hochschild (1983) describes two main techniques of managing one's emotions--surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting relates to managing observable expressions, whereas deep acting corresponds to managing feelings. In other words, feelings are changed from the "outside in" in surface acting (faking feelings), whereas feelings are changed from the "inside out" in (active) deep acting (modifying inner feelings) (Kim, 2008). Hochschild (1983) also acknowledges another technique known as passive deep acting by which employees' feelings are spontaneously felt and displayed with no conscious effort. There is still an ongoing debate on whether the third technique should be included in the conceptualization of emotional labor since it lacks the process of internal dissonance and conscious effort (Mann, 1999). Kim (2008) contends that deep acting is synonymous with active deep acting (involving individuals' internal dissonance and effort) rather than passive deep acting. This hence suggests that emotional labor is best viewed as a two-dimensional construct consisting of only surface acting and deep acting.

In a similar vein, Grandey (2000) proposes that both processes of surface and deep acting correspond to the description of emotional labor as emotional regulation. To her, surface acting is emotional dissonance. On the other hand, deep acting is emotional regulation. She goes further to argue that these two dimensions alone can be used to operationalize emotional labor based on three justifications. First, surface and deep acting can result in both positive and negative outcomes. Thus, positive outcomes such as customer service performance and increased personal accomplishment as well as negative outcomes such as emotional exhaustion can be adequately explained. Second, organizational training and stress management programs can be accordingly designed in light of the possible differential outcomes of these two processes of emotional labor. Finally, by conceptualizing emotional labor as two-dimensional, we can link this model to an established model of regulation (Gross, 1998) and consequently facilitate expansion of this research area.

Yet, there are other researchers (e.g., Brotheridge & Lee, 1998, 2003; Morris & Feldman, 1996) who prefer to perceive emotional labor as a multi-dimensional concept. For instance, Morris and Feldman's (1996) scale is comprised of four dimensions: attentiveness to display rules, frequency of emotional display, variety of emotions to be expressed, and emotional dissonance. Display rules are related to societal, occupational, and organizational norms (Rafaeli & Sutton, 1989). The higher the attentiveness to display rules of the organization, the more psychological effort and physical stamina is required of employees. The frequency of emotional display is another important indicator because the more often an organization requires socially appropriate emotional displays, the greater demand for emotional labor. Short interactions with customers require less emotional effort (Sutton & Rafaeli, 1988; Rafaeli, 1989) as opposed to longer interactions which have been found to result in a higher possibility of employee burnout (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993). Emotions expressed in the organization setting can be categorized as positive, negative, or neutral (Wharton & Erickson, 1993).The wider range of emotions to be expressed, the more emotional labor is required of the employee. This corresponds to the third dimension of variety of emotions. Emotional dissonance makes the fourth dimension of emotional labor that represents the discrepancy between genuinely felt emotions and organizationally prescribed emotions (Middleton, 1989). This conflict in turn contributes to more difficult emotional labor given that it requires greater control and management of behavior. For instance, in the case of a sales person lacking of commitment to a particular product that subsequently requires him to exert considerable emotional effort in order to display positive emotions necessary to effectively sell that product (Johnson, 2004).

Despite the rigorous measure of emotional labor proposed by Morris and Feldman (1996), the content validity of their scale was perceived to be inconsistent with Hochschild's (1983) acting paradigm (Kruml & Geddes, 2000). In an effort to better represent Hochschild's (1983) scale, Kruml and Geddes (2000) recommend two dimensions--emotive dissonance and emotive effort. The first factor reflects surface acting and passive deep acting; the second captured active deep acting. Similarly, Brotheridge and Grandey (2002) and Brotheridge and Lee (2003) restructured emotional labor into two categories but under different labels: job-focused and employee-focused. Each category has, along with surface and deep acting, other sub-constructs such as frequency, intensity and variety, and duration. More recently, Diefendorff et al. (2005) contend that spontaneous and genuine emotions, acknowledged by Hochschild (1983) as passive deep acting, should be included in the emotional construct and as such presented a three-dimensional construct: surface acting, deep acting, and naturally felt emotions.


The main aim of the current study is to assess the goodness of measures (validity and reliability) of the emotional labor construct proposed by Brotheridge and Lee (1998) within a non-western context. Data were collected using a survey questionnaire administered to a total of 137 hotel employees, representing 16 hotels in east Malaysia. We employed a "drop-off-call-back" method (Hair et al. 2006) in the distribution and collection of completed questionnaires. The selected hotels were initially informed about the objective of the study (via telephone calls and emailing) before their co-operation to be a part of this study was obtained.

4.1 Sample Profile

The 137 respondents held jobs ranging from front office assistants to workers in various food and beverages outlets in the hotels. They were mainly concentrated on low organizational level (117 or 85.4%). There were more women (78 or 56.9 %) than men (59 or 43.1%), suggesting the actual representation of female workers in the service sector. It is well documented that women are more likely to work in services industry (Bird & Sapp, 2004; Jordan, 1997) and the majority of them are in fact located in subordinate posts in most service sectors (Richter, 1995). With respect to ethnicity, Bumiputras (indigenous people) made up the majority of the sample (120 or 87.6%). This is followed by Chinese (6 or 4.4%), Indians (2 or 1.5%), and 9 or 6.5 per cent classified themselves as Other.

At the time of the research, most of the respondents were single (91 or 66.4%), whereas 39 (or 28.5%) were married, and 7 (or 5.1%) were either separated or divorced. In terms of academic qualifications, the majority of the respondents had high school education (or below) (91 or 66.4%). There were also some diploma holders (31 or 22.6%), degree holders (11 or 8.1%), and the remaining obtained other qualifications (4 or 2.9%). Ages of the respondents ranged from 18 to 47 years, with an overall mean age of 25.6 years. Average organizational tenure for this sample was approximately 2.08 years, with the range from approximately 10 months to 29 years. The mean job tenure was 2.17 years. These statistics indicate that the sample was generally young with relatively minimum working experience.

4.2 Instrument

The current study employs Brotheridge and Lee's (1998) 15-item emotional scale, comprising subscales that represent six dimensions of emotional labor. These dimensions are duration, frequency, intensity, variety, surface acting, and deep acting.

The first dimension of the scale under study--duration of customer interaction is measured with a single free response question. Respondents are asked to state the actual duration of an average interaction with a customer. The remaining dimensions are assessed on a five-point Likert response scale (1 = Never to 5 = Always). A stem question is provided for answering items in these dimensions; "On an average day at work, how often do you do each of the following when interacting with customers?" Higher scores would suggest higher levels of the dimensions being assessed.

Consisting of 3 items, the subscale for the frequency dimensions measures the frequency of the display of organizationally prescribed emotions. The intensity subscale contains 2 items that address how often the respondent expresses strong or intense emotions. The variety subscale measures the variety of emotional expression on the job and consists of 3 items. The 3 items in the surface acting dimension assess the extent to which the respondent express emotions that are not felt. The deep acting subscale has 3 items to gauge how much an employee has to modify feelings to comply with display rules. Given the above, it seems worthwhile to determine whether all the noted dimensions are relevant in the Malaysian context by means of a series of reliability and validity tests.


To test the goodness of measure for the emotional labor construct, we conducted 6 types of evaluation to test for content validity, construct validity, convergent validity, discriminant validity, nomological validity, and reliability of the proposed emotional labor scale.

5.1 Content Validity

According to Rubio, Berg-Weger, Tebb, Lee, and Rauch (2003), content validity is the extent to which the items on the measure assess the same content or how well the content material was sampled in the measure. Content validity is typically based on subjective evaluation (rather than on statistical testing) and is further supported by exhaustive literature review (Gomez, Lorente, & Cabrera, 2004). Given that, the content validity of Brotheridge and Lee's (1998) measure is deemed to be acceptable because the instrument has been tested and supported by the extant literature. However, it is still crucial that we clarify the scale's underlying factor structure using factor analytical techniques which is the focus of the next section.

5.2 Construct Validity

Factor analysis is extensively employed by researchers in the development and evaluation of scales (Pallant, 2001). To elaborate, it is a technique used to test the construct validity of a particular scale by reducing a large number of individual scale items to form a smaller number of coherent subscales. To examine the underlying factor structure of Brotheridge and Lee's (1998) emotional labor scale more closely, we employed an exploratory factor analysis approach using an orthogonal varimax rotation. Table 1 provides the results.

As shown in the table, the analysis revealed a two-factor solution. The KMO was within acceptable level and the Barlett's test of sphericity was significant. The total variance explained was 63.36 per cent with the first component contributing to 36.14 per cent, whereas the second component contributing to another 27.22 per cent. Most items in the subscales were dropped due to cross loadings that exceeded 0.30. But interestingly, all surface acting items were retained and as theorized they cleanly loaded on a single factor. However, two deep acting items and two variety items formed another distinct factor. We decided to retain the 2 variety items under the deep acting construct since the way these items were worded might have suggested a more genuine display of emotions as when compared to surface acting.

5.3 Convergent Validity

The third evaluation of the emotional labor construct was related to the convergent validity of each subscale. When all items measuring a construct actually load on a single construct, it can be surmised that the construct shows convergent validity (Campbell & Fiske, 1959). A convergent validation test differs from a construct validation test such that the former emphasizes the validity within scales, whereas the latter is concerned with validity between scales. Hair, Anderson, Tatham, and Black (2006) opine that convergent validation analysis is useful in order to form more in-depth judgment of the dimensionality of the construct under study. This study clearly provided support for the convergent validity of the two-factor scale; the two factors displayed unidimensionality with Deep Acting's KMO value at .72, explaining 63.53 percent of the variation. For surface acting, the KMO value stands at .64, contributing 62.67 per cent of the variation.

5.4 Discriminant Validity

Next, discriminant validity of the proposed construct was executed. We conducted a correlation analysis on the 2-dimension construct of emotional labor. Discriminant validity is established when 2 constructs are relatively distinctive such that their correlation values are neither an absolute value of 0 or 1 (Campbell & Fiske, 1959). Given that, the results as shown in Table 2 confirmed the discriminant validity of the construct since the two factors of surface and deep acting are not perfectly correlated.

Further, we obtained values for average amount of variance extracted and squared correlation following the rule given by Smith, Milberg, and Burke (1996). We found that the average amount of variance extracted of surface and deep acting factors was greater than the squared correlations between these factors, leading us to firmly establish the discriminant validity of the proposed construct.

5.5 Nomological Validity

Another form of construct validity is nomological validity which refers to the degree to which a construct behaves as it should within a network of related constructs known as a nomological set (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955). To ascertain the construct validity of a measure, Cronbach and Meehl (1955) propose that a nomological network has to be established. What this means is that we have to develop a nomological link between the variable that we want to validate with another variable which has been proven theoretically to be related to the target variable. To validate the construct of emotional labor, we hence used emotional exhaustion in developing the nomological link since this dimension has been found to be an important outcome of emotional labor (Johnson, 2004). As shown in Table 3, deep acting as well as surface acting was significantly related to emotional exhaustion, thus confirming the nomological validity of the construct.

5.6 Reliability

Reliability is one of the major criteria for evaluating the internal consistency of a scale. Internal consistency refers to the homogeneity of the measure. In other words, if a scale possesses a high reliability the scale is considered homogenous. Cronbach's alpha was adopted for purposes of this study as it is the most utility for multipart-scale items (Cooper & Emory, 1995; Sekaran, 2000). The results of the reliability analysis revealed Cronbach's alpha values of .81 and .70 for surface acting and deep acting, respectively. By subscribing to the threshold value of .60 as the acceptable standard of reliability (Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994; Sekaran, 2000), it can be surmised that the measure used in this study demonstrated acceptable to good internal reliability.


The results revealed that only the surface and deep acting dimensions of emotional labor were capable of explaining sufficient variation in the construct. The findings appear to support the contention that job-related variables such as frequency, intensity, variety are not emotional labor itself but its antecedents (Grandey, 2000; Kim, 2008). Perhaps it is true that the two techniques of emotional labor--surface and deep acting are valid components of emotional labor as argued by Grandey (2000). Although the other subscales were found to be irrelevant in this study, they may be appropriate sub-dimensions of emotional labor in different contexts as well as with different samples. Hence, there is still much research work to be done to provide more useful insights into the dimensionality of emotional labor under different circumstances.

That being said, some potential limitations of this study should be mentioned for considerations in future research. First, the data were drawn from the hospitality industry in Malaysia and as such generalizing the findings to other sectors or cultural settings might be constrained. It would hence be worthwhile to replicate this study using samples in diverse occupations, cultures, and sectors. Morris and Feldman (1996) assert that emotional requirements that are appropriate in one service may be inappropriate or even dysfunctional in another environment. In the case of bill collectors, for instance, the emotional labor requirements would be the direct opposite of a warm emotional front in the hospitality setting (Johnson, 2004). Second, the data were obtained from the same source which could have resulted in common methods variance. Thus, the findings should be viewed with caution. Also, the factor analysis in this study yielded more than half of the items been dropped due to high cross loadings. As such, future research should use other statistical methods such as structural equations modeling (SEM) to examine the underlying factor structure of the emotional labor construct more closely.


Although a considerable amount of effort has been devoted to understanding what emotional labor is, there are still a number of unresolved issues surrounding its measurement (Fisher & Ashkanasy, 2000). This study was based on a survey questionnaire to determine the dimensionality of emotional labor in the Malaysian hospitality setting. Through tests of validity and reliability, only the subscales of surface and deep acting of Brotheridge and Lee's (1998) instrument were found to adequately explain the variance in the construct. Hence, the argument that emotional labor is best viewed as the performance of surface acting and deep acting (Grandey, 2000; Kim, 2008) seems to be substantiated by the study findings.


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Ang Magdalene Chooi Hwa, Universiti Malaysia Sabah-Labuan International Campus, Malaysia

Ramayah Thurasamy, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia

Syed Azizi Wafa, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Malaysia


Dr. Magdalene Ang, PhD., is a Senior lecturer at the Labuan School of International Business and Finance, Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

Professor T. Ramayah; MBA, is a Associate Professor at the School of Management, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Dr. Syed Azizi Wafa, PhD., Professor of International Business at the School of Business and Economics, Universiti Malaysia Sabah.


Items                                                     I        II

Factor I: Deep acting and variety

DA9:      I make an effort to actually feel the           .87      .07
          emotions that I need to display to others.

DA10:     I try to actually experience the emotions       .78      .10
          that I need to display to others.

V6:       I display many different kinds of emotions.     .77      .19

V8:       I display many different emotions when          .72      .14
          interacting with others.

Factor II: Surface Acting

SA14:     I hide my true feelings about a situation.      .09      .84

SA13:     I pretend to have emotions that                 .09      .81
          I do not really have.

SA12:     I resist expressing my true feelings.           .20      .68

Eigenvalue                                               2.96     1.48

Variance (%) (Total: 63.36%)                            36.14    27.22

Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin MSA                                        .71

Bartlett's test of sphericity                                 294.72 **

Note. N = 137; ** p < .01; Underlined loadings
indicate the inclusion of those items in the factor;
DA = Deep Acting; V = Variety; SA = Surface Acting.


                 Deep Acting

Average             (.32)
SC                 (0.09)
Surface Acting     .31 **

Note. ** p < .01; Average = average of variance
extracted; SC = squared correlation.


                       Deep acting   Surface acting

Emotional exhaustion      .30 *          .21 **

Note. * p < .05; ** p < .01.
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