Graduation Year

2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Sociology

Major Professor

Margarethe Kusenbach

Keywords

cashier, customer, emotions, mistreatment, strategies

Abstract

In Western culture, and especially the United States, the increasingly service based economy focuses on creating an emotionally positive experience for customers. This leads to increasing pressures on service workers to hide and suppress their emotions even when mistreated by customers, in order to meet their employers', and general cultural, customer service standards. This thesis investigates the questions of what kinds of emotional challenges supermarket cashiers experience as a result of mistreatment from their customers, how do they manage to cope with these challenges, and whether there are any differences in challenges or coping strategies between younger and older cashiers, and those with less or more work experience. Researchers have studied the strategies and effects of emotion management in a variety of work settings, as well as private and other institutional settings, including airlines (Hochschild, 1983), animal shelters (Arluke, 1994), and abortion clinics (Wolkomir and Powers, 2007). However, the role of customer mistreatment in the development of emotion management strategies among service workers has remained relatively unexamined to date.

For my research, I conducted semi-structured, qualitative interviews with nine female cashiers of different ages who work at large supermarkets in two counties of southwest Florida. As illustrated and discussed in the analysis chapters, most commonly, participants described three different types of mistreatment they experience from their customers and resulting emotional issues: stigma, verbal abuses, and sexualized mistreatment. In order to cope with these mistreatments, cashiers employ two types of emotion management strategies: interpersonal and personal. Interpersonal strategies in the workplace include peer support and enlisting the manager, personal strategies include what I call doing service and forgiving the customer.

In the concluding chapter, I summarize my research findings and describe how my study contributes to the current state of the literature on workplace emotion management. I also discuss the limitations of my study. Lastly, I discuss implications for policy and some recommendations for protecting cashiers from customer mistreatment, and the associated emotional suffering, in the future.

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