Emotional labour among women leaders within the South African consulting industry: a hermeneutic phenomenological inquiry

  • Reevasha Pillay
  • Aden-Paul Flotman
  • Jeremy Mitonga-Monga
Keywords: deep acting, emotion regulation, emotional labour, consulting industry, commercial value, surface acting, women in leadership


The opinion that the workplace should be viewed as a rational environment is being swiftly dismantled by acknowledging and harnessing the power of emotions in favour of individual and organisational outcomes. This study explored the lived experiences of emotional labour among women leaders in the consulting industry in South Africa. A qualitative study was conducted and informed by the hermeneutic phenomenological perspective. Data were gathered through in-depth, unstructured interviews with eight women leaders resident in the Gauteng Province, South Africa. The data gathered were analysed by applying a hermeneutic phenomenological analysis, and interpreted from a work- and personally related emotional labour stance. The empirical findings suggest that these women leaders enjoy very little work-life balance, which is accepted as common practice in this industry. Role complexity and personal life obligations result in role conflict. Their emotional wellbeing is adversely affected, which manifests in guilt, loneliness, loss of identity, alienation, shame and the emotional exhaustion they experience. Furthermore, it seems that adequate organisational support is not experienced by women leaders in this volatile, highly pressured emotional context. This study contributes to the field of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, the literature on emotional labour, as well as human resource practices such as talent management, retention strategies and the career management of women leaders  in the consulting industry by making suggestions for human resource practices and future research.

Keywords: deep acting; emotion regulation; emotional labour; consulting industry; commercial value; surface acting; women in leadership


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1998-8125
print ISSN: 1561-896X