Customers play a key part in the working experience of a significant proportion of the working class in contemporary service work. This e-special issue features articles selected from previous issues of Work, Employment and Society which have made significant contributions to our understanding of the role of the customer within the social relations of interactive service work. This introduction argues that the literature in this area is implicitly comprised of three approaches: an approach which sees worker–customer relations merely as an additional dimension; an approach which sees the customer’s role as having knock-on implications for a limited number of dimensions of work organization; and an approach which sees implications of the customer across the whole of work organization. The contributions of the e-special articles are brought out by positioning them within these approaches. This introduction ends with a consideration of strengths and weaknesses in the three approaches.
Under-employment and unemployment of immigrants has often been attributed to immigrants’ lack of human capital skills and/or cultural and social capital endowments. Few studies have addressed the fact that despite these possible ‘capital’ disadvantages, immigrant niches are occasionally made in professional fields. Based on an institutional ethnographic study, this article sheds light on this phenomenon. Specifically, it traces some of the hiring practices found within the engineering profession in Canada from the standpoint of Chinese immigrant engineers. It unveils a hard versus soft skill discourse that ideologically relegates minoritized immigrants to the bottom of the hiring queue. It also maps a project-based and network-dependent hiring schema that paradoxically renders immigrants without ‘desirable’ skills simultaneously dismissible and indispensable. It further argues that the skill discourse revealed constitutes a rationalizing mechanism through which racialization and capitalist pursuit of maximum surplus value interact to produce differential opportunities for immigrants at different places and times.
This article shows why qualifications built on occupational capacity rather than on trade-based skills have more potential to accommodate the aims of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and changes in the labour process, going together with the development of occupational labour markets. The article challenges the distinct Anglo-Saxon notion of ‘skill’ attached to a trade-based system of vocational education and training (VET), where qualifications have weak labour market currency. This distinctiveness has implications for EQF implementation, built on common understanding of knowledge, skills and competences and intended to establish equivalence between different occupational qualifications. The article focuses on the example of bricklaying in England and Germany, an occupation archetypal of construction and skilled manual work. Clear differences are identified between bricklaying founded on developing occupational capacity through negotiation and regulation by stakeholders, recognized through qualifications, and bricklaying as a demarcated trade, defined by output and with ‘skills’ distinct from other trades.
The expansion of higher education has led to more graduates in the UK labour market. Despite government expectations, this expansion has not boosted national economic competitiveness. This article argues that current understanding of the impact of graduates’ skills is limited by methodological and conceptual narrowness in current research and that a broader research agenda is required. This agenda needs to cover not just the supply but also the demand, development and deployment of graduates’ skills and, as a consequence, distinguish between ‘graduate skills’ acquired in higher education and the ‘skills of graduates’ formed prior to, in and parallel to higher education.
Software work is often depicted as a ‘sunrise occupation’, consisting of knowledge workers that are able to craft stable careers. The aim of this article is to question this account by analysing the experiences of mobile applications developers, with a focus on Apple and Google platforms. The analysis is situated in the context of wider socioeconomic trends and developments in product and technology markets, since these structures frame the working practices of software developers. Drawing on qualitative fieldwork in Sweden, the UK and the USA, the study reveals how changing market structures have given rise to increasingly precarious working conditions and unstable labour markets.
A large and enduring employment gap attaches to impairment and disability. Nevertheless, disability remains a neglected area of research in both labour economics and sociology of work when compared to other protected groups. The government has looked to health professionals (Dame Carol Black, and Sir Michael Marmot), rather than to social scientists, for policy advice, including in relation to the workplace. The Black Review charts an improvement in employment prospects for those reporting disability (1998–2007), a reversal of a prior trend. The purpose of this study is to uncover and disentangle the drivers of employment growth for those reporting disability. The effects of changes in group characteristics, some of which may be linked to an increase in the rate of ill health reporting, are considered; and also the effects of changes in the employment structure towards flexible working, the public sector and non-manual jobs. The analysis extends to 2011 to capture the effects of the recession.
The labour of interactive service work, particularly its emotional and aesthetic dimensions, has been the focus of significant research. This article investigates the occupational practices of perhaps one of the most immediately recognizable of interactive service workers, the Santa Claus performer. Through a series of observations and in-depth, semi-structured interviews, it explores both the conditions of employment encountered by these workers and the practices and techniques by which they aim to bring a level of authenticity – one perceived to be unparalleled in similar roles both service and theatrical – to their performance. In doing so, the article explores work characterized by the pursuit of interpersonal recognition derived from the self-esteem that is desired and, in many instances, achieved from the perceived authenticity of this performance, that is, by being Santa Claus.
This article adopts a socio-cultural lens to examine the role of Buddhism in highly skilled women workers’ careers in Sri Lanka. While Buddhism enabled women’s career development by giving them strength to cope with difficult situations in work, it also seemed to restrict their agency and constrain their career advancement. The article argues, based on its findings, that being perceived as a good Buddhist woman worked as a powerful form of career capital for the respondents in the sample, who used their faith to combat gender disadvantage in their work settings.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is under-researched in the sociology of work and employment. This deficit is most pronounced for white-collar occupations. Despite growing awareness of the significance of psychosocial conditions – notably stress – and musculoskeletal disorders, white-collar work is considered by conventional OHS discourse to be ‘safe’. This study’s locus is clerical processing in the UK public sector, specifically Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, in the context of efficiency savings programmes. The key initiative was lean working, which involved redesigned workflow, task fragmentation, standardization and individual targets. Utilizing a holistic model of white-collar OHS and in-depth quantitative and qualitative data, the evidence of widespread self-reported ill-health symptoms is compelling. Statistical tests of association demonstrate that the transformed work organization that accompanied lean working contributed most to employees’, particularly women’s, ill-health complaints.
Evidence from a range of sources suggests that customer abuse to service workers is a significant phenomenon. This article argues that a large part of customer abuse is endogenously created within the fabric of the service economy. Thirty book-length ethnographies were coded for relevant data and a fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis was undertaken. The findings show that frequent customer abuse is associated with a configuration of the promotion of customer sovereignty (at organizational, sectoral and national levels), the weak position of labour, the higher social status position of customers vis-à-vis workers and the structuring of service interactions as encounters.
Recent scholarship examines multiple types of emotion management but these efforts are limited by the absence of service recipients’ perspectives. Using interviews with personal home care clients in Toronto, this article extends discussions of emotion management. Both management and recipients expect the worker to respectfully meet and anticipate clients’ individual needs but this is relational service, not emotional labour, because it is motivated by relationship building. Most clients also want caring work but it is unclear if and when this is part of the job. This preferred emotion management stems neither from explicit organizational rules nor implicit social rules, but from organizational signals informally communicated to workers by recipients. Some recipients send social signals for care beyond the job, which can take the form of unpaid labour or friendship. The article offers an extended typology of emotion management that can incorporate clients, managers and workers as actors in service work.
Frontline healthcare worker jobs are among the fastest growing occupations in the USA. While many of these are ‘bad jobs’ with low pay and few benefits, the intrinsic nature of frontline work can also be very rewarding. This article examines the influence of extrinsic job characteristics (e.g. wages and benefits) versus intrinsic characteristics (e.g. meaningful tasks) on job satisfaction and intent to stay with one’s current employer. This article uses a mixed-methods approach, drawing on survey data collected from frontline workers and organizations in a variety of healthcare settings, as well as interview and focus group data from frontline workers to contextualize and interpret the findings in the multi-level models. The results indicate that both intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics are significant predictors of job satisfaction, but only extrinsic characteristics help explain intent to stay with the employer.
Critical concerns have been raised about the quality of employment in the offshore service sector in developing countries, suggesting that many activities have an inherent paradox of highly educated workers performing low-skilled jobs. Based on empirical data collected in the offshore service sector in Baguio City (the Philippines), this article analyses the knowledge and skills acquisition of workers using the concepts of employability and generic skills. The article demonstrates that offshore service sector work is part of a longer-term career planning of workers and an opportunity for strengthening their employability on the global labour market. The early stage of development of the offshore service sector provides workers with opportunities for local upward labour mobility. The article argues that the sector should be looked at from an employee-based perspective that emphasizes their employability and generic skills acquisition in order to understand the longer-term benefits of the sector for developing countries.
A range of literature has attempted to reconceptualize union agendas for firm-level restructuring by identifying variety in local union strategic responses. This article explores the conditions under which local unions respond strategically to company restructuring in the Netherlands, Italy and Ireland. Two distinct types of union strategies are identified: confrontation based on ‘job protection’; cooperation based on ‘job transition’. Evidence suggests that different combinations of structural and socio-political firm-level conditions encourage the choice of specific union strategy. Understanding the nature and the interactions between firm-level contextual factors, within a broader institutional setting during restructuring, is important to provide a fuller explanation for the variety of strategic choices facing local unions.