Emotional Labor in Emergency Dispatch: Gauging Effects of Training Protocols


Introduction: Previous studies of emergency dispatch personnel have established high levels of emotional labor, burnout, and turnover intention among this population of first responders. This study is the first to investigate the effect of emergency dispatch script protocols on workplace outcomes of burnout and turnover intention. Hypotheses: The study tests two related hypotheses: Greater script comfort among emergency dispatchers will be associated with decreased emotional exhaustion (Hl) and decreased turnover intention (H2). Methods: The study uses multivariate regression to establish baseline models of emotional exhaustion and turnover intention among respondents. Structural equation modeling is then used to explore the direct and mediated relationship between script discomfort and the two outcomes simultaneously. Results: Dispatchers who express more discomfort with script protocols express elevated levels of emotional exhaustion (Hl), but not turnover intention (H2), to a statistically significant degree. This multivariate regression result is validated in a structural equation model (SEM) which solves for both outcome variables simultaneously, and demonstrates the centrality of surface acting in the overall model of both emotional exhaustion and turnover intention. Conclusions: As script protocols continue to increase in use and complexity, emergency dispatch managers and administrators should be cognizant of potential increases in emotional exhaustion among employees. The overall increases documented in this study are small to moderate in size, but given the high baseline levels of burnout among emergency dispatch personnel, any increase is potentially damaging. This study found no significant increase in turnover intention, which was protected against through dispatchers' increased use of surface acting. However, we did not test for or rule out the potential negative outcomes of poorer physical and mental health, increased absenteeism, and increased substance abuse that have been documented in other emotional labor studies.

Annals of Emergency Dispatch and Response, (7), 3, pp. 5–10