Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Material Construction of Care Workers' Identity

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Material Construction of Care Workers' Identity

Article excerpt

Introduction

In organization and management studies, the materiality of an organization has been taken (more or less) for granted. Recently the physical space where working and managing take place, the bodies of organizational actors, and the artifacts they use have been paid more attention (e.g., Ainsworth et al. 2009; O'Toole and Were 2008). This materiality has also been addressed in elderly care (see, e.g., Bechky 2008; Dale 2005; Hujala et al. 2013). In order to obtain a rich and diverse picture of the material and physical world of elderly care organizations, we look at materiality through the lenses of organizational aesthetics (Strati 1992; Strati and Guillet de Montoux 2002; Taylor and Hansen 2005; see also Hujala and Rissanen 2011). According to organizational aesthetics the people in an organization are physical beings connected to their environment through all their senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Thus in this study materiality means everything we can sense in the work organization: physical spaces, concrete artifacts, and other workplace objects (and even smells and soundscape) and the bodies of other people who are present.

The context of this study is elderly care homes, which are often considered to be full of sensual experiences because they are not only workplaces but also the homes of elderly people (Martin 2002). In addition, elderly care organizations are an interesting object for the study of materiality, because both their workers and customers (residents) are closely tied to the physical settings, mostly due to the poor health of the frail residents. According to earlier studies, the physical resources of many care organizations are insufficient, including the architectural solutions and the functionality of the (work) equipment (Hujala and Rissanen 2011). This affects the well-being of both residents and care workers.

Work in elderly care is often called 'dirty work', which indicates in this particular context seeing, smelling, and touching the dirty bodily products of the elderly (see Twigg 2000; Widding 2002). This kind of dirty work is connected to the physical environment of the workplace as well. As dirty work and also as women-dominated caring work and emotionally encumbered work, elderly care carries a certain kind of 'stigma' of low status work and the low status of the nursing profession (see also Hvid and Kamp 2012; cf. Kirpal 2004). This lack of appreciation influences the identities of care workers by questioning their professional value. How the label of dirty work influences the identity of care worker in a stigmatized field is worth examining (see Slay and Smith 2011). This stigma may spread from the work identity to the area of personal life. The identity issues concern not only individual workers, but also the image and attractiveness of the whole care branch (see also Leinonen 2009). Professionals want to work in organizations where their skills are appreciated in all respects. Managerial requirements based on the ideology of New Public Management (NPM) have also undermined the ethos of public service in the last few decades and challenged the identities and identity work of elderly care workers (see, e.g., Kamp 2012; Kirpal 2004) and recognition of the emotional and bodily sides of care work (Twigg 2000). These are the reasons why the attractiveness of work in elderly care has decreased, making it crucial to study how care workers construct their identities as professionals in these circumstances.

In this article we consider how the materiality of the workplace is connected to the identity of care workers in elderly care homes. Identity has become a popular topic and frame to study various phenomena in different disciplines, for example, organization studies (e.g., Alvesson et al. 2008). One reason for the popularity of studying identity may be the purpose of managerial control of workers to enhance the productivity of the organization (see, e. …

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