Violence on the frontline : a qualitative study of how service workers cope
Drawing on extensive empirical evidence, taken from a regional Employment Service, this PhD explores in depth, how frontliners cope with the experience of customers' violence on the frontline. Analysis of empirical data led to the finding that frontliners cope in a number of ways which were both collective and individual. The coping mechanisms used were influenced by the different organisational constructions of customer violence. This PhD has brought the emotional labour and the organisational violence literature together using insights from both to inform the other and aid understanding of not only organisational violence in general, but specifically the way that frontliners cope with the experience of customer violence. This is an aspect somewhat neglected in both the emotional labour literature and the organisational violence literature to differing extents. Although the emotional labour literature does examine ways that frontliners cope with the difficulties of customer service, it frequently fails to examine the interplay of the formal and informal organisation in influencing the means of coping used by frontliners and it has yet to consider the way that frontliners cope specifically with customer violence. The organisational violence literature tends to take the concept of violence as an unproblematic, objective term and ignores the fact that violence is a constructed subjective concept. I see this as problematic. The more interpretevist literature, which does recognise the polysemic nature of violence, only considers customer violence in passing. This literature completely fails to consider the part that the customer sovereignty plays in this violence, a significant omission, which I believe, has implications for our understanding of organisational violence. A number of theoretical points from this study have wider implications that are applicable to more than just the regional Employment Service explored. It was found that the customer sovereignty ideology played an important role in not only the ways that frontliners cope, but also in customer violence in general. Customer sovereignty underpinned the invisibility of violence and the concern for customers' well-being over those of frontliners. Both these findings were applicable to other frontline organisations. This study also found that the customer service ideology contributed towards conditions which fostered customer violence. This PhD also found that those with hierarchical power will be able, to some extent; to impose their construction of what is violent on those with less hierarchical power. However, this study emphasises the importance of human agency in arguing that those with less hierarchical power will still be able to contribute to creating organisational reality. Workers were not taken to be passive recipients of the dominant approach, but were helped shaped the construction of violence. This finding has implications for not only the construction of customer violence within organisations, but for the nature of power and the construction of organisational reality. This study has outlined many areas that need further consideration. The relationship between the customer service ideology and customer violence is currently under-researchedM. ore studies are needed examining this in different frontline settings, including both public and private sectors. Specifically, research is needed to consider the extent to which this ideology is used to justify customer violence and difficult frontline conditions in general. In examining the ways that frontliners cope with the experience of customer violence; this study integrated both the emotional labour and organisational violence literature. It is hoped that in using insights from both to inform the other, together with my own empirical research, this PhD has deepened understanding of not only the coping devices used by frontliners, but also customer violence in general.