The new world of work and employment: fitness workers and what they want from the employment relationship

Sappey, Jennifer & Maconachie, Glenda J. (2009) The new world of work and employment: fitness workers and what they want from the employment relationship. In Proceedings of : 15th World Congress of the International Industrial Relations Association (IIRA): The New World of Work, Organisations and Employment, 24 – 27 August, 2009, Sydney, Australia.

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This paper reports on an empirically based study of the Queensland (Australia) health and fitness industry over 15 years (1993 -2008). This study traces the development of the new occupation of fitness instructor in a service industry which has evolved si nce the 1980s and is embedded in values of consumption and individualism. It is the new world of work. The data from the 1993 study was historically significant, capturing the conditions o f employment in an unregulated setting prior to the introduction of the first industrial a ward in that industry in 1994. Fitness workers bargained directly with employers over all a spects of the employment relationship without the constraints of industrial regulation or the presence of trade unions. The substantive outcomes of the employment relationship were a direct reflection of m anagerial prerogative and worker orientation and preference, and did not reflect the rewards and outcomes traditionally found in Australian workplaces. While the focus of the 1993 research was on exploring the employment relationship in a deregulated environment, an unusual phenomenon was identified: fitness workers happily trading-off what would be considere d standard working conditions for the opportunity to work (‘take the stage’). Since then, several streams of literature have evolved providing a new context for understanding this phenomenon in the fitness industry, including: the sociology of the body (Shilling 1993; Turner 1996); emotional (Hochschild 1984) and aesthetic labour (Warhurst et al 2000); the so cial relations of production and space (Lefebvre 1991; Moss 1995); body history (Helps 2007); the sociology of consumption (Saunders 1988; Baudrillard 1998; Ritzer 2004); and work identity (Du Gay 1996; Strangleman 2004). The 2008 survey instrument replicated the 1993 study but was additionally informed b y the new literature. Surveys were sent to 310 commercial fitness centres and 4,800 fitness workers across Queensland. Worker orientation appears unchanged, and industry working conditions still seem atypical despite regulation si nce 1994. We argue that for many fitness workers the goal is to gain access to the fitness centre economy. For this they are willing to trade-off standard conditions of employment, and exchange traditional employm ent rewards for m ore intrinsic psycho-social rewards gained the through e xp o sure of their physical capital (Bourdieu 1984) o r bo dily prowess to the adoration o f their gazing clients. Building on the tradition of emotional labour and aesthetic labour, this study introduces the concept of ocularcentric labour: a state in which labour’s quest for the psychosocial rewards gained from their own body image shapes the employment relationship. With ocularcentric labour the p sycho-social rewards have greater value for the worker than ‘hard’, core conditions of employment, and are a significant factor in bargaining and outcomes, often substituting fo r direct earnings. The wo rkforce profile (young, female, casual) and their expectations (psycho-social rewards of ado ration and celebrity) challenge traditional trade unions in terms of what they can deliver, given the fitness workers’ willingness to trade-off minimum conditions, hard-won by unions.

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ID Code: 27760
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Employment Relationship, Work and Employment, Fitness Workers
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT (150300) > Industrial Relations (150306)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Business Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Management
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2009 please contact the authors
Deposited On: 06 Oct 2009 00:55
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2011 17:15

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