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Customer mistreatment is a ubiquitous and pernicious form of interpersonal mistreatment leveled by customers against employees. Service workers’ reactions to customer mistreatment have been traditionally viewed as tit-for-tat reactions in which service workers respond to customers’ aggression with retaliation in kind. However, this tit-for-tat account does not capture the broad range of possible service worker responses to customer misbehavior. We build the case for self-esteem threat as an overarching framework for divergent employee reactions to customer mistreatment, and explain how service workers’ behavioral reactions and emotional labor may systematically vary according to where service workers stake their self-esteem—in performance, in others’ approval, or in status—using contingencies of self-worth theory. Other features of the self-concept are identified as boundary conditions of the process.


Peter Faber Business School

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Journal Article

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