Enacting the service role: Implications of “backstage” behaviour by service agents in response to customer aggression

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Dr. Aaron Schat
DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University

The work of customer service workers has been likened to theatre work in that it involves on-stage and backstage roles. On stage, service workers enact prescribed roles to ensure the satisfaction of their “audience” — the customers. Backstage, they step out of their on-stage roles and behave more informally.

Using this dramaturgical perspective of customer service work as a framework, Dr. Aaron Schat, assistant professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business, will examine the emotional and behavioural responses of service agents to customer aggression. In particular, he will look at the types of backstage behaviours adopted by customer service agents to manage the stress and emotions that arise from their on-stage experiences of customer aggression. He will present the results of a recent study examining the implications of backstage behaviour on service agents’ work attitudes, behaviour and well-being.

Dr. Schat’s main research interests are in the area of work-related stress and health, with a primary focus on investigating the nature, antecedents and consequences of worker exposure to workplace aggression, and identifying strategies for workplace aggression intervention and prevention. He has taught courses and consulted on various topics in human resource management. He holds a BA (Hons.) in psychology from Redeemer University College, and an MA and PhD in industrial-organizational psychology from the University of Guelph.