Beauty service work as dirty work: Understanding employees' lived experiences
Mendonca, Avina Jenifa
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Beauty service work, an emergent industry in the contemporary business context, has earlier been studied as bodywork and interactive service work. The present study explores the subjective experiences of beauty service workers and in the process aims to understand the underexplored dirty work dimension of the job. Accordingly, van Manen’s (1990) hermeneutic phenomenology was adopted to examine the lived experiences of beauty service workers employed in unisex salon chains in Bangalore, India. Forty-one beauty service workers performing the jobs of hairstylists and beauticians, across organizational levels and belonging to regional, national and international chains participated in in-depth interviews. Data were thematically analyzed following van Manen (1990) to yield two major themes, namely, ‘acknowledging but downplaying taint’ and ‘emphasizing and appropriating a prestigious profession’. Various means of methodological rigour were adopted to ensure the trustworthiness of the findings. The study shows that beauty service workers see their job as dirty and often go through stigmatized experiences due to the taint attached to their job. However, beauty service work is also endowed with prestigious factors which sideline taint and assist beauty service workers to navigate from experiencing taint to emphasizing a professional identity. Beauty service workers’ subjective experiences bring forth the complex interface between the interactive service and dirty elements of their job and thereby present a nuanced account of beauty service work performed under the growing beauty service industry and organizational context. In the process, the study extends our understanding of dirty work concept by highlighting the role of contextual and job-related aspects in expanding the prestige attached to a dirty occupation. The contributions of the study also pertain to the taint dimension of dirty work, notably service taint, as the findings bring out its distinctness. The study provides an in-depth understanding of a relatively high-prestige dirty occupation placed in the service economy which is sought after by clients and at the same time encounters various taints.
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