Asakti-Anasakti as mediator of emotional labor strategies & burnout: a study on ASHA workers.

AuthorPandey, Jatin

In this study the authors borrow the concept of anasakti (non-attachment) and asakti (attachment) from the Indian philosophy of Anasakti Yoga to explain the relation between two emotional labor strategies of surface and deep level acting and burnout for accredited social health activists (ASHA workers or ASHAs).Emotional labor and burnout are widely associated with jobs that involve high customer interaction. Community health workers when interact with people have similar work requirements. Asakti-Anasakti are regarded as bi-polar emotional states wherein an individual high in asakti forms emotional attachments more quickly as compared to a person who is high in anasakti. Results from 116 ASHA workers bring forth that Asakti-Anasakti mediates the relationship between emotional labor strategies and burnout.


The quality of the health care services delivered by community health care workers depends on the interaction between the caregiver and the caretaker similar to the service delivery in case of frontline employees and customers (Berry, Zeithaml & Parasuraman, 1985; Zeithaml, Bitner & Gremler, 2006). Customer is present at the time of service creation and delivery, this is in contrast to a product rich setting where a customer might not be present at the production site (Berry et al., 1985). In service setting the emotions displayed by employees have implications for customer satisfaction (Tan, Foo& Kwek, 2004) and in successful service delivery, therefore, emotions become an important factor in the health care service delivery.

Healthcare workers are in close proximity of people for delivering healthcareservices; this makes their job rich in "people work" and therefore emotionally taxing through the performance of emotional labor (Maslach & Jackson, 1984). This close proximity also warrants them to display and/or suppress specific emotions that are desired for successful service delivery (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Smollan, 2006). This tussle between felt and projected emotions gives rise to emotional labor which is communicated by the strategies of surface level acting and deep level acting (Brotheridge & Lee, 2003). The emotional state of these health workers decides which strategies would be used by them and, thus, will be associated with outcomes like burnout.

Scholars have tried to find the relevance of Indian philosophical thought in the domain of management e.g. congruence of Nyaya Sutras to modem theories of management (Pandey & Singh, 2015a) and application of Sankhya philosophy in managerial decision making (Pandey, Gupta & Naqvi, 2016).We look into classical Indian texts for concepts and constructs that could refine this relation. Asakti and anasakti are two emotional determinants drawn from classical Indian philosophy of Anasakti Yoga (Gandhi, 1946). Asakti can be loosely translated as attachment and anasakti as non-attachment. We propose that asakti or anasakti levels in an individual mediate the relation between emotional labor strategies and burnout.

Emotional Labor

Emotional labor is the "process of regulating both feelings and expressions for the organizational goals" (Grandey, 2003: 97). It has also been referred to as "the process by which workers are expected to manage their feelings in accordance with organizationally defined rules and guidelines" (Wharton, 2009:147). Care and concern that a nurse shows to patients and a doctor's interaction with critical patients are examples of emotional labor in action. A bad mood, bitter experience, personal loss, etc. should not ideally affect their behavior with patients but, human emotions take its toll when there is a tussle between perceived and projected emotions. This tussle gives rise to the effort on their part to display desired emotions which can be seen as emotional labor. Like a sculptor needs physical effort to carve a stone similarly a community health worker needs psychological effort to carve a positive image in the minds of the beneficiary.

ASHA Workers & Emotional Labor

Accredited social health activists (ASHAs or ASHA workers as they are called in India) are community health workers instituted by the Government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as a part of the National Rural Health Mission. ASHA workers are indeed augmentation to the existing human resources of healthcare workers to reach villages (Paul et al., 2011; Reddy et al., 2011). By 31st March 2015, there were approximately 9,04,195 ASHA workers (National Rural Health Mission, 2014). Selected from their villages and accountable to their village they are women who are trained to work as an interface between the community and the public health system. Their major job roles are counselling women before, during and after delivery on health practices and precautions and care of the young child(About Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA), 2014).

In the case of ASHA workers, the goal of the organization is the betterment of people who are being served by these workers. The beneficiaries of the health care services are either children or people who are unwell; therefore, there is an expectation of the display of appropriate emotions and the suppression of inappropriate emotional displays (Smollan, 2006). Certain emotions that are expected from community health workers like concern, empathy, etc. are vital, but suppression of others like anger, irritation, etc. are also essential in the interaction with sick people (Groth, Hennig-Thurau, & Walsh, 2009).

Emotional Labor Strategies

When emotional labor is expressed through deep acting employees change their inner felt emotions to the ones that are required in the job whereas in the case of surface acting inner feelings are not disturbed (Grandey, 2003; Hochschild, 1983). In the service script surface acting is more concerned with management of the visible aspects of emotion like expression, tone etc. whereas in deep acting, employees try to identify with the role (Zapf, Vogt, Seifert, Mertini & Isic, 1999). Empathy towards sick by an ASHA worker indicates deep acting whereas just sympathy expressed through words indicate surface acting.


Hochschild (1983) suggested that burnout is one of the outcomes associated with the performance of emotional labor. It has become very popular and well-known metaphor for human service workers like nurses (Kristensen, Borritz, Villadsen, & Christensen, 2005). Recent studies broaden this horizon to include other groups like managers, students, etc. who are exposed to chronic stress (Rholetter, 2013). Erickson and Ritter (2001) found that emotional labor acted as a predictor of burnout. Researchers have used the meta-analytic technique to estimate a positive relation between emotional labor and burnout(Bono & Vey, 2005). These studies bring to light the importance of this construct. Deep acting lead to fusion of self and work role which leads to increment in the risk of burnout (Wharton, 1999).However, surface acting does not entail fusion of self with work role therefore would not result in burnout.

Emotional State& Emotional Labor

In case of service delivery, the emotional state of the service provider (ASHA in our case) would have an enormous...

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