Fat so?: Managing the Effect of Obesity Stereotypes on Customer Evaluations of Service Organizations
Cowart, Kelly Odessa (author)
Brady, Michael K. (professor directing dissertation)
Plant, E. Ashby (university representative)
Hartline, Michael D. (committee member)
Perrewé, Pamela L. (committee member)
Department of Marketing (degree granting department)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
Obesity is described as the fastest growing public health challenge the nation has ever faced. Sixty-two percent of American adults are overweight or obese. Regardless of their weight, all Americans bear the burden of the $147 billion health care cost and $11.7 billion in lost productivity that results from obesity-related issues. With 75% of new job development occurring in service sectors over the next two decades, it is likely that a large number of frontline service personnel will be obese. This research introduces the topic of obesity into the services literature by taking a pointed look at the interplay between frontline employee obesity and customer evaluations of the firm. In particular, the author hypothesizes that the negative stigma assigned to an obese service employee will transfer to evaluations of the employing firm. Mitigating strategies are examined as well as methods by which a firm can evoke the countervailing "jolly fat" stereotype as a buffer of the transference. Extant research has documented the existence of a "courtesy stigma" that leads to the stigmatization of non-stigmatized individuals when they are presented in a relationship with stigmatized others (Goffman 1963). The potency of this phenomenon results in vicarious stigmatization of non-stigmatized individuals who are merely in the proximity of a stigmatized individual, regardless of the perceived depth of their relationship. Study One extends this line of research by providing empirical evidence of the stigmatization of a firm based on the presence of a stigmatized employee. Many studies have addressed the role of employee appearance and behavior in the formation of brand impressions. The present research is the first to establish the stigmatization of an organization based on the stereotypes of its employee. Significant findings would mean that customers readily activate negative stereotypes when an obese frontline employee is encountered during a service transaction and those negative stereotypes lead to negative evaluations of the frontline employee and the associated service firm. It is determined that the customer's perceived interaction quality mediates the relationship between the obese frontline employee and evaluations of the service firm. Studies Two and Three investigate possible buffers for the negative outcomes of obesity stigmatization. Signaling theory is drawn upon in Study 2 to justify the introduction of observable quality cues as a means to offset the negative implications of an obese frontline employee. In Study Three, joviality and pseudo-relevant information are simultaneously applied to a scenario-driven experiment in an attempt to reverse the negative obesity associations. The absence of a significant three-way interaction implies that the obesity stereotypes may be intractable. Self-disclosure of pseudo-relevant information by the frontline service employee successfully suppressed the negative outcomes of employee obesity in Study Three. The expression of joviality did not evoke a positive obesity stereotype. The combination of pseudo-relevant information and joviality expression failed to reverse customers' negative evaluations of the frontline employee or the service firm. Thus, a second buffering technique was identified in Study Three but a reversal of the negative obesity stereotype did not occur.
Stereotypes, Obesity, Obesity Stigma, Services, Customer Evaluations, Discrimination
April 5, 2010.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Marketing in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Michael K. Brady, Professor Directing Dissertation; E. Ashby Plant, University Representative; Michael D. Hartline, Committee Member; Pamela L. Perrewé, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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