Re-ordering connections: UK healthcare workers' experiences of emotion management during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sociol Health Illn. 2021 Nov;43(9):2156-2177. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.13390. Epub 2021 Oct 27.


This paper examines the impact of disruptions to the organisation and delivery of healthcare services and efforts to re-order care through emotion management during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. Framing care as an affective practice, studying healthcare workers' (HCWs) experiences enables better understanding of how interactions between staff, patients and families changed as a result of the pandemic. Using a rapid qualitative research methodology, we conducted interviews with frontline HCWs in two London hospitals during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic and sourced public accounts of HCWs' experiences of the pandemic from social media (YouTube and Twitter). We conducted framework analysis to identify key factors disrupting caring interactions. Fear of infection and the barriers of physical distancing acted to separate staff from patients and families, requiring new affective practices to repair connections. Witnessing suffering was distressing for staff, and providing a 'good death' for patients and communicating care to families was harder. In addition to caring for patients and families, HCWs cared for each other. Infection control measures were important for limiting the spread of COVID-19 but disrupted connections that were integral to care, generating new work to re-order interactions.

Keywords: COVID-19; UK; emotion management; emotional labour; healthcare workers; hospital; pandemic.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Emotions
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United Kingdom