Self-esteem, as a property that largely determines behavioral aspects in different situations, can manifest itself in a working environment. In particular, dignity that employees experience is one of the tools for interacting with managers, subordinates, and other colleagues and is the basis of forming an opinion about a person. However, in relation to low-paid jobs that, as a rule, characterize people as those of low status, the concept of self-worthiness and its admissibility is often disputed. The “dirty” jobs category, which is associated with noxious or uncomfortable conditions, is often stigmatized from the standpoint of the lack of self-esteem.
The analysis of relevant theories and findings from academic sources can help determine whether employees experience dignity in low-status jobs. The assessment shows that the concept of self-dignity is more subjective than objective, and it is possible even in the conditions of “dirty” work if both an employee and his or her environment are aware of the benefits to society.
Dignity at Workplace
The concept of dignity at the workplace may be described as a condition that depends on a number of factors. Lucas (2011) views this phenomenon as a set of social markers that can either stimulate self-sufficiency or, conversely, lower it. Hamilton et al. (2019) suggest evaluating dignity in relation to “economic security, fair treatment and intrinsically satisfying work” (p. 889). At the same time, the general essence of the definitions is similar since the key emphasis is on the recognition of equality and the absence of stigmatization or bias. Doherty (2011) considers dignity at work from two perspectives – the inalienable right to freedom and autonomy and special management practices aimed to enhance human self-esteem. Both principles, however, suggest differences between those jobs that are of high and low status. Therefore, the analysis of dignity in relation to “dirty” jobs is required to assess its manifestations and potential limitations.
Dignity in Low-Paid Jobs: Basic Characteristics and Discourses
Low-paid jobs are often considered “dirty” for a number of reasons. In particular, Lucas (2011) mentions “physical, moral, or social taint,” for instance, work with wastes, forced servility, or dubious virtue, which are well-established principles of evaluation and the consequences of stigmatization. However, in different professions, these aspects manifest themselves distinctively and are natural, which indicates the permissible objective nature of self-esteem. For instance, Sayer (2007) argue that servility in nursing may not be associated with individual properties but with numerous work responsibilities, while in low-skilled jobs, low dignity is explained by the lack of career prospects. In some cases, moral issues need to be considered because, as Strangleman (2006) notes, regardless of social status and working conditions, a person can promote self-esteem as a way to maintain one’s autonomy. Thus, the objective nature of dignity in “dirty” jobs is acceptable.
At the same time, when assessing generally accepted theories, the subjective nature of dignity is more likely, given that the manifestations of self-esteem are real in any jobs, including low-paid ones. Hamilton et al. (2019) highlight the three most significant discourses that relate to dignity in low-status jobs. They are affirmation, which involves the implementation of socially significant benefits, hierarchic esteem, which allows an employee to agree to the existing gradation of statuses, as well as paternalistic care, which is expressed in the sense of heroism for the performed “dirty” work. This structure allows arguing that, regardless of what discourse a particular situation can be brought to, subjective assessment plays a major role and determines a person’s tendency to a particular principle. Therefore, the concept of dignity is possible even in low-paid jobs.
Denials of Dignity
When considering the causes of the denials of dignity, objective and subjective nature can also be involved. In the first case, employees may lack dignity for reasons associated with the performance of work duties. In particular, Hamilton et al. (2019) mention poor discipline, exclusively selfish interests, and some other factors as prerequisites for the objective denial of dignity. Strangleman (2006), in turn, notes that managers tend to show disrespect in relation to subordinates due to organizational norms promoted in a particular organization, such as an authoritarian leadership style. However, for subjective reasons, the denials of dignity at the workplace are a more important and noteworthy phenomenon. For instance, Sayer (2007) highlights the customer effect, in which an employee’s labor is underestimated. Other manifestations, such as verbal abuse or disrespect, are typically the result of stigmatization that prevails over objective causes (Hamilton et al., 2019). Thus, while taking into account the aforementioned factors, one can assume that the denials of dignity are more severe in subjective than objective assessment.
Provided that the employee’s environment is aware of the importance of the work performed by him or her, dignity is possible even in low-status, or “dirty” jobs since the subjective nature prevails over the objective one. Social stigmatization is one of the most significant factors determining specific assessments and labels. The theoretical framework, in particular, three discourses, makes it possible to describe the concept of self-esteem as a phenomenon that can manifest itself in any working environment. The denials of dignity also have a subjective and objective nature, and in the first case, the manifestations of bias are more severe.
Doherty, E. M. (2011). Joking aside, insights to employee dignity in “Dilbert” cartoons: The value of comic art in understanding the employer-employee relationship. Journal of Management Inquiry, 20(3), 286-301.
Hamilton, P., Redman, T., & McMurray, R. (2019). ‘Lower than a snake’s belly’: Discursive constructions of dignity and heroism in low-status garbage work. Journal of Business Ethics, 156(4), 889-901. Web.
Lucas, K. (2011). Blue-collar discourses of workplace dignity: Using outgroup comparisons to construct positive identities. Management Communication Quarterly, 25(2), 353-374. Web.
Sayer, A. (2007). Dignity at work: Broadening the agenda. Organization, 14(4), 565-581. Web.
Strangleman, T. (2006). Book review: Dignity, respect and the cultures of work. Work, Employment and Society, 20(1), 181-188. Web.