Policy Study

11/06/2024

Cross-country workers’ survey on consequences of algorithmic management

Computer in command: Consequences of algorithmic management for workers

The integration of new technology in the workplace continues to spark intense debate. For years the debate has centered on the fear that robots and computers will displace human workers. Recently, the focus of the debate has shifted: rather than being replaced by computers, more and more employees find themselves managed by computers. Tasks that were once the domain of human managers are now performed by computer systems – a phenomenon known as ‘algorithmic management’.

“Computer in command: Cross country workers’ survey on consequences of algorithmic management” is a series of policy studies that uncovers the adverse consequences of algorithmic management for workers and explores ways to dampen these effects through surveys in four Nordic countries. The study is the first of its kind to systematically examine the consequences of algorithmic management.

The study is based on a large survey conducted among union members in the warehousing and customer service/telemarketing sectors in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The labour markets in the Nordics are characterised by collaboration, strong worker rights and healthy work environments, but even in this context the study shows that algorithmic management poses a great challenge to workers’ well-being.

Algorithmic management is quite widespread in sectors such as warehousing and customer service/telemarketing. In these fields, a significant number of employees report that computer systems are used to assign shifts and tasks, monitor activities, and evaluate performance.

This use of algorithmic management has several adverse consequences for employees. Workers exposed to algorithmic management experience less job autonomy, increased workloads, and heightened stress levels. Additionally, the study shows that algorithmic management is associated with less trust between employees and management, lower levels of job motivation and satisfaction, and a heightened fear of losing your job.

Importantly, the study shows that these adverse consequences are not unavoidable altogether. High levels of employee influence in the workplace and transparency of company decisions significantly reduce the negative effects of algorithmic management. This is crucial insight for policymakers, unions, and others who want to ensure that the digitalization of work does not compromise job quality and workers’ well-being.

Four separate “Computer in command” studies will be available in Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish.

Country case study: Denmark 🇩🇰

Computerchefer: Algoritmeledelse har store konsekvenser for medarbejderne

This publication focuses on the results of the survey among trade union members in Denmark. The study shows that Algorithmic Management (AM) is already quite widespread within warehouse work, customer service, telemarketing, and citizen services. A significant proportion of survey participants indicate that computer systems are used to assign shifts and tasks, to monitor their activities, and to evaluate their performance at work. This use of AM has a myriad of negative consequences for employees. They experience less autonomy in the performance of their daily tasks with an increased workload and stress level. Furthermore, this study shows that AM is associated with a diminished level of trust between employers and employees, a lower level of motivation and satisfaction in the job, as well as an increased fear of being fired for not reaching the expectations measured by the algorithm. Fortunately, these negative consequences are not entirely inevitable. The negative effects of AM re considerably less wherever there is a higher degree of employee influence in the decision-making and greater transparency in the management’s decisions. This study demonstrate that it is absolutely crucial for policy-makers, trade unions, and everyone in society to ensure that the use of new technologies in the labour market does not undermine the employees’ well-being.

This policy study series is part of the Digital Research Programme

FEPS, Tankesmedjan Tiden, Kalevi Sorsa Saatio, Tankesmien Agenda, CEVEA, Arbejderbevægelsens Erhvervsråd (ECLM), Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Nordics and Cooperation Committee of the Nordic Labour Movement (SAMAK), with the support of Nordic trade Unions, came together for a Digital Research Programme to discuss the research questions, methods and approaches of the different research strands:

  1. Algorithmic management and governance (prevalence & consequences)
  2. Workers’ experience at the workplace – surveys and focus groups
  3. Online platforms and employment terms
Network
Cevea
Economic Council of the Labour Movement (ECLM)
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
Kalevi Sorsa Foundation
Samak
Tankesmedja Tiden
Tankesmien Agenda
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