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'Excess Baggage - Leveling the Load and Changing the Workplace' by Ellen Rosskam
"Excess Baggage" is a book based on research by Ellen Rosskam on the working conditions of airport check-in workers in two countries. "Excess Baggage" takes a rare look at how economic insecurity and globalisation impinge on the health and functioning of workers under stress. Similar cases and strains are occurring in many work groups around the world – this book gives an insight to the suffering some workers are being forced to endure today. Based on groundbreaking research on the working conditions of airport check-in workers in two countries, a previously unstudied category of predominantly women workers, Ellen Rosskam describes a form of work characterised as modern-day Taylorism. An occupation greatly affected by new forms of work organisation and management practices - caught in the throes of rapid change due to international competition, alliances, mergers, and the application of cost-efficiency strategies - check-in work has been undermined in recent years by the adverse effects of liberalisation and technological change. By peeling away the veneer of glamour associated with airport check-in work, Rosskam reveals how changes in work organisation in this sector have de-skilled, disempowered and ultimately demoralized workers. In "Excess Baggage", weaving through the psychological distress, physical pain from musculoskeletal disorders, strain, and violence that check-in workers experience and describe in their own words, a picture emerges of a job perceived to be "safe", "clean", "glamour girl" work, but which is comparable to industrial workplaces that require heavy manual lifting, obligingly performed in skirts, dresses, and pretty little shoes. Rosskam describes the widespread insecurity that affects check-in workers, linked to structural and cultural hegemony, modern management practices and modern management myths. Through her pioneering research, she provides valuable information on the untold hazards associated with various service sector jobs, largely performed by women. These are jobs known to produce increased job strain that manifests as heart disease, psychological distress, musculoskeletal disorders, depression, burnout and other physical and psychological health effects. By applying an action-oriented approach, "Excess Baggage" makes a convincing case for taking a holistic approach to viewing jobs, considering them as "entire work systems" and not merely as a series of individual factors. Rosskam makes an eloquent plea for involving workers in organisational decision-making and a convincing case for using the collective voice as a critical key for improving working conditions. An expert in her field, Rosskam demonstrates the way in which destructive and disempowering management practices have direct adverse consequences for workers' health, well-being and performance on the job. She describes the insidious role of "dehumanising" managers - undergoing a disturbing proliferation in today's workplaces - in undermining workers' health and the effects this has on an organisation's "bottom line". The behavioural and personality characteristics of perverse individuals in the workplace are presented, followed by recommendations for organisational change. Ellen Rosskam is Visiting Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Work Environment Department, Visiting Senior Fellow at the University of Surrey, European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, England, and is faculty member for Boston University School of Public Health, International Honors program, teaching Globalization and Health in Boston, USA, Beijing, China and Capetown, South Africa.