Guest Editorial

Introduction to Special Edition

“Work and Organisation in the New Service Economy”

Services are increasingly important. In developed countries such as the USA services, as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product, have grown from 58 percent in 1960 to 71 percent in 1997 (World Bank 1999). Similar changes have occurred in ASEAN countries and Australia. In Australia for example, services account for some 62 percent of GDP and more than 72 percent of civilian employment. This is comparable with other European and North countries including Canada, France, Sweden, the UK and the USA (Ross, Bamber & Whitehouse 1998; Dolvik 2001). The decline of agriculture and manufacturing and the growth of the service sector represents one of the greatest changes in the structure of employment in the 20th century and raises important questions about the changing nature of work, human resource management and industrial relations in the ‘new economy’.

Despite the importance of services, most experiments in management, work organisation, and employment relations are derived from manufacturing. The dominant organisational model in the twentieth century was the mass production system based on dedicated technology, routine repetitive jobs, minimal training and conflict in union-management relations. More recent innovations in organisational behaviour have also been based on the experiences of manufacturing in terms of quality management, team working, multi-skilling, management union cooperation and so on. It is commonly assumed that manufacturing models are a dominant paradigm and can be applied to all work settings (Appelbaum & Batt 1994).

In some important respects, though, work in the service sector is different from manufacturing. Many jobs in the service sector are part time or casual in nature, filled by women and youth and poorly unionised. This contrasts sharply with manufacturing employment that is typically dominated by men in fulltime jobs, and strong unions. Further, unlike manufacturing, many services are intangible and do not involve a physical object that can be stored. In many cases, both consumer and producer must be present for service delivery to occur (Allan & Timo 2000) and thus service work has a strong relational and emotional component (Macdonald & Sirianni 1996:5). Indeed, it has been argued that the emotive and personal relationship between workers and customers represents a critical distinguishing feature of service work (Frenkel et al 1999; Leidner 1996). This interpersonal component has been described as ‘emotional labour’, (Hochschild 1983) or a component of the ‘personality market’, as C. Wright Mills observed in the 1950s (Mills 1951).

These differences raise some important questions about understanding the nature of work and employment relations in the service economy. To what extent is it possible to transfer or to apply manufacturing models of work organisation or management to the service sector? How is work different in services? How is the experience of work different between manufacturing and services? How successfully can private sector manufacturing models of management be applied to the public sector? How have professional service workers in the public sector experienced these new management systems?

In this Special Edition of the Journal we try to answer some of these questions about the nature of work, HRM and employment relations in the service sector. The articles were submitted in response to our call for papers on the new service economy. They are preceded by an inspirational speech on Singapore’s approach to Innovation, presented recently by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. The varied collection of articles addresses a range of issues about service sector work and employment. For example, the article by Johnson & Lucas examines the nature of youth employment in the hospitality and tourism labour market comparing experiences in selected East European Countries with that of the UK. Their conclusions suggest a degree of labour market ‘convergence’. The adoption of market led economic policies in Eastern Europe entails the adoption of western style patterns of part time and vocational employment amongst full time students. The implications for public policy makers are underlined. This article thus provides an interesting comparative analysis of service sector with a particular focus on the under-researched countries of Eastern Europe.

North & Hort also adopt a comparative framework of analysis. Their article is a comparative study of the impact of cross-cultural influences on employee commitment in the hotel industry. It underlines the importance of culture in mediating commitment, illustrating the complex interaction between emotion, work commitment and culture in a service setting. In their article, Maxwell & Quail also examine the hotel industry focusing on the relationship between HRM and service quality. They examine the extent to which management ideas developed in the manufacturing sector can be transposed into the service sector. Their article explores the extent to which HRM can support customer satisfaction, which they argue is a key driver in service quality.

The article by Brunetto looks at the growing public sector managerialism of work practices of two public sector groups, nurses and academics. She notes that both occupations have come under greater managerial and government pressure to do more with less, which has the potential to reduce their professional autonomy in terms of service delivery. Yet, she finds quite different outcomes of the effect of managerialism on these two service sector professions. Finally, the article by Russell examines the structure of service work in a call centre ‘brown field’ (or existing site) and a ‘greenfield’ (or new site). He shows how call centre management uses structure and emotion in order to control and standardise service quality. The article also shows that extending a unitary HR culture is more likely to be successful in ‘greenfield sites’ where employee norms, values and attitudes are less likely to be ingrained.

We have endeavoured in this special edition to cover a diverse range of articles dealing with numerous aspects of service sector management and work. This is as it should be as the service economy is diverse and multifaceted; so too will be the research interests of scholars working in this area. Clearly, there is much more work to be done exploring the nature of work, management and employment in the service sector. We look forward to seeing more research, discussion and debate on this vital topic in the 21st Century.


Allan C. & Timo N. 2000 ‘Globalisation and the Organisation of Work: Case Studies of Three Service Industries’, eds Mylett T., Boas C., Gross M., Laneyrie F. & Zanko M. Employment Relations Perspectives: Globalisation and Regionalism, University of Wollongong Press, Wollongong.

Appelbaum E. & Batt R. 1994, The New American Workplace, ILR Press, Ithaca.

Dolvik J. 2001 (ed.), At Your Service: Comparative Perspectives on Employment and Labour Relations in the European Private Sector Services, P.I.E. Peter Lang Publishing, Bruxells.

Frenkel S., Korczynski M., Shire K. & Tam M. 1999, On the Front Line: Organisation of Work in the Information Economy, ILR Press, Ithaca.

Hochschild A. 1983, The Managed Heart: Commercialisation fo Human Feelings, Cambridge, Ann Arbor.

Leidner R. 1996, ‘Rethinking Questions of Control: Lessons from McDonalds’, eds Macdonald C. & Sirianni C., Working in the Service Society, Temple University Press, Philadelphia.

Macdonald C. & Sirianni C. 1996, ‘The Service Soceity and the Changing Experience of Work’, eds Macdonald C. & Sirianni C., Working in the Service Society, Temple University Press, Philadelphia.

Mills C. Wright 1951, White Collar: The American Middle Classes, Oxford University Press, London.

Ross P., Bamber G. & Whitehouse G. 1998, ‘Employment, Economics and Employment Relations: Comparative Statistics’, eds Bamber G. & Lansbury R., International and Comparative Employment Relations: A Study of Industrialised Market Economics, 3rd ed, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Tannock S. 2001, Youth at Work: The Unionised Fast-food and Grocery Workplace, Temple University Press, Philadelphia.

World Bank 1999, World Development Indicators, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Dr Nils Timo
Griffith University