Promoting Engagement Among ‘Precarious' Front-Line Hospitality Employees: A Varieties of Capitalism Approach

Saturday, 4 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.1.03 (Tower Two)
Michael Moran, National University of Ireland, Galway, Galway, Ireland
While the movement continues from manufacturing to services in many economies, the perception of jobs in frontline hospitality is often viewed as lacking meaningfulness and requiring low skills. As front-line hospitality employers continue to manage efficiency and flexibility, Leibenstein (1966) reminds us that most of the x-efficiency losses arise from inadequate motivation. Employee engagement appears to be mutually beneficial for both the employee and employer in such a demanding industry. ‘Engagement’, as conceptualised by Kahn (1990) and subsequently defined by Schaufeli et al. (2002) as “a persistent and positive affect-motivational state of fulfilment in employees characterised by vigour, dedication and absorption” (pg. 74). Using Varieties of Capitalism analysis, this paper explores whether employee voice and vocational education and training can provide much needed engagement in this precarious industry.  

There have been many different theories of comparative capitalism (e.g. Business Systems and Social Systems of Production). Through economic crises and institutional reforms (e.g. globalisation), the Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) approach has remained the most ‘resilient’ (Colvin and Darbishire 2012). The Liberal Market Economies (LMEs) of USA, UK, Canada, Ireland and Australia operate mainly through competitive market actions and hierarchies (Hall and Soskice 2001). On the other hand, Co-ordinated Market Economies (CMEs) such Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries rely on labour market institutions and strong governance (Hall and Soskice 2001). Hall and Soskice (2001) propose five spheres of the VoC approach namely industrial relations, corporate governance, vocational training and education, inter-firm relations and employee relations. VoC theory posits that LMEs promote ‘general skills’ while CMEs provide ‘specific skills’ (Hall and Soskice 2001). Busemeyer (2009) criticises the VoC approach for underestimating the importance of mechanisms for the authoritative certification of skills. Despite this, Estevez-Abe et al. (2001) emphasise that industry/occupation specific skills are more likely to be authoritatively endorsed. It is expected that specific vocational training will increase security (e.g. skill portability) and meaning (e.g. self-identity) (Knights and Willmott 1989). This study examines if differences in this 'vocational training and education' sphere influence employee engagement.

Labour Process Theory (LPT) analysis has strong parallels with emotional labour. The selling of one’s emotions for a wage through the labour process (Braverman 1974, Edwards 1979) is likely to involve employee alienation and erosion of identity. Hochschild’s (1983) ‘transmutation of feelings’ theory incorporates Marx’s (1887) ‘alienation theory’ through the ‘dramaturgical’ actions of surface acting and deep acting. Authors have suggested surface acting is one of the most fatiguing and emotionally exhausting activities that a worker can preform (Beal et al. 2013). The degradation of identity also stems from the lack of perceived meaningfulness among ‘transient workers who suffer from a low level of security and promotional prospects. Identity may be formed or reinforced through status positions (Bolton and Houlihan 2007) or through participatory (Friedman 1977) strategies such as individual and collective voice (Marks and Chillas 2014).