Aesthetic Labour : Look Good and Sound Right


A growing level of interest in service work has been displayed in the last few years, particularly in emotional and aesthetic roots of service work. Moreover, expectations of the service organizations are particular, that the employees should have the right appearance where they would ‘look good’ and ‘sound right’ to attract more customers to their businesses. This is beyond the technical abilities/skills of employees and what is required from them are the ‘soft skills’ and ‘aesthetic skills’. These skills are essential for any employee to build up a strong relationship with the customers. Accordingly, the successful performance of aesthetic labour is to have the best relations using the aforementioned skills. In addition, it is about changing the accent to meet the job requirements, looking good, sound right and grooming with different uniforms, hairstyles and make-ups.

Service jobs in the retail and hospitality industries are looking for the above as selection criteria. For example, cabin crew members should present themselves very politely, dress well and groom well to attract more passengers, which in return brings them a high reputation about the hospitality and service. Similarly, operators of the call centers communicate nicely with the accent which sounds right on their job role. Further, receptionists are expected to dress well (look good) and communicate nicely (sound right) with visitors with the right intent. Moreover, these facts are clearly evident in much spoken theories such as the Big Five Personality Traits Model. Identified Emotional Stability trait of Big Five Theory is directly representing the feature of ‘sound right’ in aesthetic labour which is more evident with cabin crew members, receptionists and call operators as they directly work with clients. They have to be stable with their emotions to maintain a long-lasting association with their clients/customers.

However, good looks and dress code is needed or not is really questionable if the company management is only working at job completion. Then, they can focus more on the competencies which are necessary to perform the job well. Yet, many of the organizations have identified aesthetic labour as the looks and have misused the definition and violated the law. So, it is all about looking good (dress code and grooming) and sound right (accent). This is still debatable in the present work context which is very subjective and dynamic based on different opinions of people.

More interestingly, crossing the line from aesthetic labour to sexuality is right to do or not, is still not clarified and debatable. For example, beauty salons take women to work and serve men in salons as they can attract more customers. Similarly, recruiting more females as cabin crew members for airlines is mainly based on their good looks. The use of aesthetic labour in such situations is wrong if the intention is wrong and it manipulates the basic principles of good looks which are not directly linked with the bodies of people. Consequently, most of the business organizations are using this as marketing tool which is unethical to attract more customers. However, it is alright to use the concept in a professional manner and gain profits over rivals in the industry.

Even non-front line employees of the organizations such as Chief Executive Officers, Board of Directors and consultants have been using aesthetic labour where they dress well and groom themselves the same as the way employees expect from them. That relationship is important for more business activities/transactions within the organization. For example, there is a policy for employees in most of the private sector organizational employees to come to the office with a formal attire as they look more professional.

Similarities could be drawn from the Sri Lankan context on the factors expanding above in relation to aesthetic labour. That is, ‘look good’ and ‘sound right’ is a main requirement expected from the service organization employees of the country. Though heterosexuality is not used in open manner in Sri Lanka other than a few clubs and salons, it has taken into consideration in few professions after identifying intentions of customers. In addition, the support given by the Sri Lankan education system for soft skills development is very less as they focus more on theoretical aspects than developing skills and competencies; whereas the education system in western countries, is more focused on soft skills development and they are more interacting & engaging with people than Asian countries. Consequently, Sri Lankan organizations find it difficult to meet the organizational expectations of aesthetic labour which will be a necessary requirement for most of the industries in the near future. If we can develop relevant features of aesthetic labour from Soft Skills Development Programmes, that will help students and industrialists to bring the aesthetic labour concept into practice with the correct understanding.

Exposition Magazine Issue 15

Mrs. W.A.M. Niranga


Department of Industrial Management

University of Kelaniya

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