The punctuation of mundane jobs with extreme work: Christmas at the supermarket deli counter

  • Bozkurt Ö
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Abstract

This article argues that the characterization of ‘extreme jobs’ as being defined by the constancy of ‘extreme work’ obscures the significance of temporary episodes of ‘extreme work’ for a wider range of jobs and notes that even ‘mundane jobs’ are punctuated by extreme work in a variety of cases. Drawing on a study at a supermarket deli counter during the Christmas trading season, it is proposed that work in this context becomes extreme, in relative terms, in three ways. First, the expansion of the scope of work entails an increase in working hours, an increase in demands for multi-tasking and product knowledge, and an expansion of discretion. Second, an increased mobilization of soft skills is necessitated by intensified work both front stage and backstage. Finally, the Christmas period also entails an extension of ‘inclusive’ management practices over a group of workers who are not typically the focus of such efforts. Four key insights are offered in conclusion: First, ‘extreme jobs’ and ‘extreme work’ are conceptually distinct, and the latter is a relative and relational term that varies with the normalized nature of different jobs; second, the temporality of ‘extreme work’ is variable, as it occurs in different rhythms on different jobs; third, the subjective experience of punctuations of mundane jobs with extreme work can be highly positive; and finally, Christmas deserves further attention in discussions of recurrent and temporary intensification of work, particularly in understanding retail employment.

Author-supplied keywords

  • christmas and work
  • extreme jobs
  • extreme work
  • mundane jobs
  • retail employment
  • supermarket employment

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Authors

  • Ödül Bozkurt

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