Nov. 11th 2022 Scientific papers

Supervisor support and emotional labor in the context of client aggression.

Because of the nature of their mandate, child protection workers (CPWs) are at risk of experiencing physical and psychological forms of aggression at the hands of service users. For this reason, it is important that CPWs receive the support they need to ensure their resilience.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the interactions over time between CPWs recovering from a recent experience of client aggression and their supervisor. For this study, researchers were particularly interested in documenting perceived supervisor support in the context of client aggression. Researchers interviewed 30 CPWs at three different time points (less than 1 month after the aggression, and then 2 and 6 months later) to assess how their needs for support evolved over time and how supervisors adapted in response.


  • Document the factors motivating employees to reach out to their supervisors’ overtime to share their emotions.
  • Explore the supervisors’ actions or interventions on behalf of the CPWs
    recovering from client aggression.
  • Explore employees’ level of satisfaction with their supervisors’ support and its perceived appropriateness
  • Tie findings with emotional labor theory.

Researchers identified three dimensions:

1) receiving proactive and urgent care; 2) making sense of the aggression together; and 3) building a relationship of trust.


The findings assert that while the consequences associated with client aggression can be long-lasting and devastating, CPWs can and do recover with the aid of a supportive supervisor.

The data suggest that CPWs were more likely to reach out to their supervisors immediately following the event, when emotionally overwhelmed by the crisis, and again later on when they needed to find ways to reconcile their experience with their work reality. The extent to which they were willing to reach out, however, was greatly influenced not only by the quality of the relationship they had built with their supervisor but also by the organizational context within which the relationship evolved (e.g., pace of the work).


Future authors should continue to study how the organizational context shapes and constrains the emotional realities of CPWs. Of specific interest is an examination of how CPWs interact with aggressive clients after an assault and how employers can best promote reconciliation or protect their CPWs and clients from
further negative consequences. Studying the impact of supervisor training on the quality and effectiveness of their support could also help researchers make more precise recommendations for organizations.

Authors : Lamothe, J., Geoffrion, S., Couvrette, A., et Guay, S. (2021)

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