Stigmatised labour: an overlooked service worker's stress

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Bove, LL & Pervan, SJ 2012, 'Stigmatised labour: an overlooked service worker's stress', ANZMAC 2012 Proceedings, Adelaide, South Australia, 3-5 December, Australia and New Zealand Marketing Academy. ISBN: 9780646563305


Service workers like social workers are valuable to society (LeCroy and Stinson 2004), even noble and heroic (Ashforth et. al. 2007), yet, perversely, they are often socially stigmatised, seen as “dirty” by their communities because they deal with “tainted” people (Ashforth and Kreiner, 1999). Other service workers also suffer stigmatisation because their role is associated with garbage, effluent or death (e.g., rubbish collector, exterminator or funeral director), they have a servile relationship with others (e.g., accommodation worker, cleaner, or chauffer), or adopt tasks that are perceived as amoral (e.g., sex worker or pawnbroker), or intrusive (e.g., telemarketer). We propose that feelings of stigma (an unpleasant emotion closely associated with embarrassment and shame (Page, 1984)), lead to reduced subjective well being. We present a conceptual model which introduces the concept of “stigmatised labour” as a type of role stress. Similar to emotional labour, those in stigmatised occupations must commit energy to managing stigma through the ways in which they choose not to disclose their occupation, or alternatively confront others, or reframe, recalibrate and refocus their experience. We postulate that excessive stigmatised labour (the cognitive and behavioural practices adopted by service workers to protect themselves from feelings of stigma), leads to burnout and turnover as service workers’ limited resources are exhausted to deal with the stress (Hobfoll, 2001). Stigmatised labour is a role stressor not previously conceptualised within the services literature. Stigmatisation is a social cost and can act as a punishment to service workers or volunteers for their good deeds. Not only does it lead to increased burnout and reduced subjective wellbeing, but it hastens decisions to leave the service. Furthermore, people who believe that they will be the target of stigmatisation if they take on an occupation or volunteer role are less likely to follow through with their intentions (Snyder at al., 1999) resulting in the missed opportunity to attract excellent candidates in much needed areas of service.