Service Work Readings: Gutek, Cherry and Groth. “Gender and Service Delivery.” Leidner. “Over the Counter.” Ehrenreich. “Walmart.” We wrap up our discussion of the types of work this week by looking at service work. At the turn of the 1900, a majority of American’s were employed in agriculture and manufacturing. Today more about 77% of Americans are employed in service work. In addition, most new jobs created today are in the service sector. So what exactly is service work? Unlike manufacturing where workers are involved in making a physical product, workers in the service sector perform some type of act for a fee. For example, when someone goes to the hospital because of illness, the medical staff performs several services from taking the persons temperature and blood pressure, to diagnosing the illness, and possible writing a prescription for some type of treatment. These are all services; the person in the drug manufacturing plant making the medicine prescribed, however, is engaging in the manufacturing of goods. Similarly, the people making mac and cheese at Kraft Foods are making a product, the person cooking the mac and cheese at the neighborhood restaurant is performing a service – cooking. However, products created in manufacturing may lead to jobs created in the service sector. For example, the manufacturing of the personal computer led to the need for computer repair services and technology support. Services may be provided in small private firms or large multinational insurance companies or by government offices. The clients or customers may be individuals, organizations, and even nations. Thus there is much variation in service work. From an economic standpoint, service work has low productivity — the quality is said to be best when service workers serve one client at a time. Think of a packed restaurant with one server. How long would it take to get your food? Or, think of a childcare worker with two children and another with six, which one do you think will offer higher quality care? Chances are you would say the person with 2 because that person can better attend to the individual needs of the children than the person with 6 children. This is likely true, but higher quality care comes at the expense of caring for more children, which economists consider to be low productivity since productivity is generally assessed by quantity. Service work, with the exception of professional services, generally pays less than manufacturing work. Hence, retail worker, the restaurant cooks and servers, childcare workers all usually make less than workers in manufacturing plants. Some suggests that the lower wages in service work may be due to the virtual absence of workers unions in the service industry. Others suggest that it may be a result of the high number of women in services relative to manufacturing. Economists suggest that it is because of the low productivity in services. In actuality, it is likely a combination of these factors and more. The readings for this week explore some of these factors.


First, Gutek, Cherry and Groth conducted a literature review of the existing research on the relationship between the gender of the service provider and the gender of the customer. From their review of the literature, they concluded that we know very little about if and how gender affects service delivery and evaluation. While it appears that people respond differently to men and women in nontraditional jobs, there was no conclusive evidence that customers sought out service providers of the same gender. Further, some restaurant customers appeared to have a preference for a server of the opposite sex. Gutek et al. concluded that there is an immediate need for further research into how the gender of the service providers and customers affect the service transaction. The two other readings were case studies of work at McDonalds and Walmart. Both of these readings highlight the plight of the workers at both of these major service establishments. Not only were the workers saddled with low pay, their work was completely routinized and unsatisfying. These two cases illustrate the common perception of service work in restaurants and retail industries. However, they may not adequately represent service professions which typically offer higher pay and greater worker autonomy. Still, more service workers are employed in these low-paying jobs than in service professions, thus the treatment of these workers is cause for concern. Have you ever worked at McDonalds or Walmart? Do you agree with these authors assessment of the work and working conditions? Discussion Questions Unlike the past where the men were the primary breadwinner, today most women work outside of the home. Do you think that the gender of the service provider still matters for the customers perception of the quality of service received? For example, do people feel differently about the care they receive at the hospital is the nurse is male? Would you feel differently about your car repairs if the mechanic is female? YouTube Videos PBS Frontline. “Is Walmart Good for America?” Inside The McDonalds Empire

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