The routinization of everyday life

A critical review of an academic article concerned with certain aspects of new issues of work.


The article focuses on why low-skilled men in the service sector tend to drop out of the labour market during periods of sustained service sector employment growth and why they avoid service work jobs.

Based on interviews with 35 unemployed low-skilled men, this article explores the men's attitudes to entry-level service work and suggests that such work requires skills, dispositions and demeanours that are antithetical to the masculine working-class habitus.

Nixon suggests various factors on why low-skilled men in the service sector generally tend to drop out of the labour market:

  • the sex-typing of the occupation
  • the nature of the service encounter
  • inability to control emotions

With the men only seeking service employment in male-dominated occupations where the worker retains a relatively high degree of power, authority and control within the service encounter.


The findings of the article suggested that there a few key reasons to as why low-skilled men in the service sector tend to drop out of the labour market and avoid service work jobs.

Managing emotional and physical reactions to customers (emotional labour)

The low-skilled unemployed men rejected entry-level interactive service work as a future source of employment because it challenged their patience to the extent that they couldn't control or manage their emotional and physical reactions to customers. The men knew that their propensity to front up was causing them major difficulties in the labour market and in the workplace, but they struggled to modify and adapt their usual ways of being. For most men it seemed that the best way of dealing with the problem was to avoid high-stress work environments, and interactive service work, especially sales and shop work, clearly came into this category. However For the older men in particular, low-skilled interactive service work represented quite a radical new challenge. Most of the older men's comments are strong evidence that they were just afraid of entering service work.

Their concept of masculinity is associated with power and authority

Liedner (1993) has suggested that men have particular difficulty swallowing their pride and taking abuse from customers in the service encounter. This is due to the fact that masculinity is associated with power and authority and service work involves 'humiliating interpersonal subordination' (Bourgois, 1995, p. 14). They didn't feel good about themselves or their lives, although this was often masked by a cloak of aggressive macho masculinity.

Taking criticism personally

The young men struggled and ultimately failed to keep their emotions in check in the service encounter because they tended to take criticism very personally and lacked the emotional management skills and verbal dexterity to deflect or resist confrontation in anything but an aggressive or physical manner.

However the men did not find all types of service works unattractive:

Masculine service niches

The jobs of hospital portering, driving and security work were all popular sought after occupations and the police force, armed forces and social work were also mentioned as potential sources of employment. The most popular and sought after service occupations allow more freedom to get out and about and involve much lower levels of surveillance and control (Nixon, 2006). There is also far less need to engage in emotional labour in such jobs.

What made the men more amenable to these service occupations? Two factors appeared key: the sextyping of the occupation and the nature of the service encounter.

The men did not explicitly refer to the sex-typing of the occupation as a key factor in rejecting such work. Rather, the men suggested that it was the high level of customer contact and their inability to keep their patience and manage their emotions when dealing with customers that led them to reject such jobs.

The second issue: the nature of the service encounter was the key issue that the men themselves highlighted when articulating their dislike of interactive service work.

This article has shown that the unemployed low-skilled men in the study rejected growing forms of low-skilled customer-oriented interactive service employment because such work calls for dispositions, skills and ways of being that are antithetical to the male working-class habitus. The men rejected female-dominated interactive service occupations that involved high amounts of emotional labour because they struggled to manage their emotions and be passive and deferential within the service encounter and because such work denied them the opportunity to relieve their stress in their usual ways through shouting, swearing, taking the piss and having a laugh.

As discussed earlier it is precisely because these jobs do involve a lot of emotional labour and because women have been constructed as having better emotional skills, that they are female-dominated in the first place. Payne, J. (2006) also the fact that men who cross into traditional female areas of work at the female level will be written off as effeminate, tolerated as eccentrics or failures. (Cockburn, 1988)

Thus the article reports that the nature of the service occupations that the men sought suggests that the issue of retaining power, control and authority within the service encounter underpinned the men's construction of appropriate potential service occupations. Thus, for the low-skilled unemployed men discussed here, masculinity is clearly associated with power, control and authority within the service encounter, and emotional labour is a skill reserved for women's jobs.

An evaluation of the methodologies used

In Nixon's report the methodologies used were limited. Having looked at the topic being researched and the nature and the sensitivity of it, interviews was the method used by Nixon for the research. This was a reliable method and gave the advantage of enabling to get open and varied answers rather than closed answers as you would do with a questionnaire. Having used interviews as a method for the report it gave the author really detailed and in depth feedback to work on, hence being logical for analytical and research purposes.

The author has tried to ensure the methodologies used are consistent as possible to ensure the research wasn't biased. Having asked the same questions to each candidate made sure that the research wasn't biased on one set of group.

The article is structured in a logical and orderly manner, which contributes to the fluency for novice readers.

Research implications

Nixon has tried to use fair and representative sample of candidates, to ensure an unbiased neutrally balanced mix of candidates for the interview procedure.

But the author does state that the representative sample was from Manchester which had suffered particularly severe male employment decline as a consequence of economic restructuring compared to other parts of the UK. Also just having the sample from one set of background; unemployed white ethnic men could have an impact on the research being unfair.

The interviewee's mood or nervousness could influence the accuracy of their answers; Nixon has overcome this hurdle by putting the interviewees at ease by allowing them to speak informally and socially prior to the interview procedure, to ensure they are comfortable, the author has also ensured anonymity and confidentiality to comply with the ethical concerns of the sensitive nature of the issue discussed to overcome this hurdle.

Assessment of strengths

Nixon has run through the context in which certain words are to be used, thus misinterpretation has been inhibited for the reader, during later stages of reading the article. This eradicates errors for novice readers.

The authors background knowledge is widespread, this is justified by the broad references and notions used.

Assessment of weaknesses

The article at first instance looks pretty tedious with masses of texts and continuous writing. The article itself is moderately factual.

The article does have facts comparing the results to the unemployment levels in the UK. More Statistical facts could have been included, stressing more on comparisons with other articles such as comparing it with trends over the years, with an attractive visual appearance for the reader. The author could've included comparative graphs, Pie charts and national statistics as stated above.

Another weak point we could discuss is the sample size: just using 35 samples is not brad at all and wouldn't give really detailed findings. If the author had used a larger sample size this would've presented more efficient findings.

Besides the sample number the actual ethnicity of the sample was just unemployed white men, had it been a mixture of ethnicities this would've represented an overall population and the research would've been fairer.

Finally, it is important to note that the men discussed here represent a particularly low skilled, poorly educated subset of all unemployed men. They were therefore, representative neither of all unemployed men, nor even of all unemployed working-class men. As the writer says more research is needed to explore how more highly skilled working-class men are navigating their way through contemporary service dominated labour markets.


  • Nixon, D. (2009) 'I Can't Put a Smiley Face On': Working-Class Masculinity, Emotional Labour and Service Work in the 'New Economy'. Gender, Work and Organizations, Vol 16, No.3, May, pp 300- 322.
  • Liedner, R. (1993) Fast Food, Fast Talk: Service Work and the Routinization of Everyday Life.
  • London, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Bourgois, P. (1995) In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Nixon, D. (2006) 'I just like working with my hands': employment aspirations and the meaning of work for low-skilled unemployed men in Britain's service economy. Journal of Education and Work, 19,2, 201-17.
  • Payne, J. (2006) 'What's wrong with emotional labour?', SKOPE Research Paper 65, University of Warwick.

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