AIMS: The purpose of this article was to explore the relationships between perceived high performance work systems, emotional labour, burnout and intention to leave among nurses in Australia. BACKGROUND: Previous studies show that emotional labour and burnout are associated with an increase in intention to leave of nurses. There is evidence that high performance work systems are in association with a decrease in turnover. There are no previous studies that examine the relationship between high performance work systems and emotional labour. DESIGN: A cross-sectional, correlational survey. METHODS: The study was conducted in Australia in 2008 with 183 nurses. Three hypotheses were tested with validated measures of emotional labour, burnout, intention to leave, and perceived high performance work systems. Principal component analysis was used to examine the structure of the measures. The mediation hypothesis was tested using Baron and Kenny's procedure and the moderation hypothesis was tested using hierarchical regression and the product-term. RESULTS: Emotional labour is positively associated with both burnout and intention to leave. Burnout mediates the relationship between emotional labour and intention to leave. Perceived high performance work systems negatively moderates the relationship between emotional labour and burnout. Perceived high performance work systems not only reduces the strength of the negative effect of emotional labour on burnout but also has a unique negative effect on intention to leave. CONCLUSION: Ensuring effective human resource management practice through the implementation of high performance work systems may reduce the burnout associated with emotional labour. This may assist healthcare organizations to reduce nurse turnover.