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Stigmatized service workers in crisis: mitigating the effects of negative media

Simon J. Pervan (Swinburne Business School, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia)
Liliana L. Bove (Department of Management and Marketing, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Article publication date: 14 September 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine how a crisis affects public attitudes toward stigmatized service workers (SSWs) who are blamed by the media for the event.


Hypotheses grounded in two theories, crisis communication and empathic concern, are tested using two experimental design studies of 180 and 107 adult respondents.


The effects of both empathy (positive) and anger (negative) on attitudes toward the SSWs involved in crisis are mediated by controllability of attribution of crisis. Empathic concern mitigates negative public attitudes toward stigmatized workers and appears to remove the effect of anger but only when the crisis severity is not too high. In a severe crisis both empathy and anger are important predictors of public response.

Research limitations/implications

Boundary conditions in terms of severity, nature and victim of crisis and media framing need to be investigated.

Practical implications

Proactive crisis management practice is required by professional associations of SSW. Eliciting empathy and paying attention to prior crisis history and professional reputation offers scope to quell public anger and desire for punishment.

Social implications

The attrition rates of socially stigmatized workers following crisis events have profound social and financial costs to society. This study sets a foundation for substantive managerial change in crisis response, and how the perception of socially stigmatized workers, is managed.


This study is the first to examine the voracity of two theories which provide informed but different insights to public response to service workers in crisis.



The authors would like to acknowledge support for this research from a University of Melbourne Faculty Grant.


Pervan, S.J. and Bove, L.L. (2015), "Stigmatized service workers in crisis: mitigating the effects of negative media", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 551-567.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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