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Exploring social class differences at work

Evans, Samantha (2016) Exploring social class differences at work. In: British Universities Industrial Relations Annual Conference hosted in University of Leeds 2016, 29 June - 01 July 2016, Leeds. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:58846)

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This paper is part of a wider project that investigates how organisational and individual factors within the workplace contribute to social class differences and inequality by examining the relative impact of objective and subjective indicators of social class on explicit (e.g. salary, promotions) and implicit (e.g. career satisfaction, quality of working life, stress and well-being) career and work outcomes.

In particular, this paper investigates the experiences of individuals in class-discrepant positions, which Gray and Kish-Gephart (2013: 692) define as those who work in roles that are above or below their initial social class standing. When individuals engage in cross-class interaction they are argued to experience heightened anxiety (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998) and although there has been theoretical development about the contribution of class-discrepant roles to workplace inequality (Gray and Kish-Gephart, 2013), research has yet to empirically explore these theoretical propositions. In addition, individuals who traverse class boundaries within organisations are known to engage in passing and shaping, performativity and class based impression management to facilitate their ‘class travel’ and progress in their careers (Hughes, 2004; Moodley, 1999; Skeggs, 1997). Gray and Kish-Gephart (2013) introduce the concept of ‘class work’ to describe some of these behaviours and theorise that class work perpetuates class differences and inequalities at work. Despite their compelling theory of class work and how it may interact with class-discrepancy to reduce anxiety and perpetuate class norms in the workplace there has been no empirical investigation into the types of class work that individuals may engage in, the type of organisational conditions that effect the likelihood of individuals engaging in class work, or how it might serve to maintain class inequality in the workplace.

Stage 1: Survey




This analyses was repeated for subjective class discrepancy (Table 3). There was no relationship between subjective class discrepancy and positive affect. However, findings show that subjective class discrepancy is negatively related to negative affect. This suggests that those who perceive themselves as higher social class in comparison to their colleagues experience higher levels of negative affect.


This stage involves a qualitative study exploring and clarifying the measurement of social class used within the survey as well as focusing on the notion of ‘class work’. Therefore our second study uses a qualitative methodology to explore the experiences of individuals in class-discrepant roles of class work and their experiences of class work using a combination of open-ended interview questions and the critical incident technique. To date, fifteen one to one interviews lasting on average 45 minutes have been conducted. The final paper submission will include data collected from further interviews and findings.


The findings of these studies will inform how social class operates within organisations and its contribution to employee wellbeing and workplace inequality. It will also provide a foundation for our wider project investigating the impact of social class on organisations and their employees.

Item Type: Conference or workshop item (Paper)
Uncontrolled keywords: social class, inequality, class travel, class discrepant roles
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Divisions: Divisions > Kent Business School - Division > Kent Business School (do not use)
Depositing User: Samantha Evans
Date Deposited: 21 Nov 2016 16:42 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:39 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Evans, Samantha:
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