Stigma and Dirty Work: In-group and Out-group Perceptions of Essential Service Workers During COVID-19


Coping mechanisms; Heroes; Hospitality industry; Hourly employees; Line-level employees; Occupational stigma theory


The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on essential service workers has given rise to their newfound “hero” status, resulting in a dramatic shift of their occupational value. Service work has been long envisioned as “dirty work”, and further, stigmatized by members of society (the Out-Group), until recently. This study utilized occupational stigma theory to identify the mechanisms under which both essential service workers and society at large came to unify around the importance of perceived dirty work in the United States. Critical discourse analysis was employed as a qualitative methodology, particularly examining the In- and Out-Group’s coping mechanisms for coming to terms with the value of “dirty” service work heroes. Theoretical implications include the utilization of stigma theory for Out-Groups, and revealed a previously undetected Out-Group coping tactic. Practical implications include the urgency for keeping the “hero” story alive so that all service workers benefit from the movement.

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Original Citation

Mejia, C., Pittman, R., Beltramo, J., M. D., Horan, K., Grinley, A., & Shoss, M. K. (2021). Stigma & dirty work: In-group and out-group perceptions of essential service workers during COVID-19. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 93, N.PAG.

Document Type




Source Title

International Journal of Hospitality Management




Rosen College of Hospitality Management


Rosen College of Hospitality Management

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