Digital tools enable an increasingly pervasive monitoring and surveillance of work. Algorithms can be used in management functions, such as planning, organisation, command, coordination and control.
The JRC is working to provide a strong conceptual foundation for the analysis of algorithmic management and is developing novel empirical work to understand its implications, from work organisation to working conditions and job quality. This area of research builds on previous JRC work on the digitisation of work and digital labour platforms.
The algorithmic management of work: A basic compass
The JRC defines algorithmic management as the use of computer-programmed procedures to coordinate labour input in an organisation. This activity, which can be powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) or not, may involve defining and assigning of work shifts, developing and delivering of job-related instructions, the assessing the performance of workers, and assigning rewards or penalties.
Management refers to a set of functions and activities to coordinate all work processes within an organisation. Some of its main functions are as planning, staffing, command, coordination and control. Algorithmic management entails the use of algorithms for the performance of one or more of these functions.
Algorithmic management, by automating management functions, has several implications for the organisations that adopt it and for the workers involved, namely:
- Changing work organisation, including over pace of work, communication, and reward, which affect working conditions and job quality,
- Changing industrial relations, by altering employment relations and encouraging outsourcing.
- Creating information asymmetries between employers and employees, which weaken the bargaining power and the involvement of workers in the production process.
Although the potential implications of algorithmic management are concerning, there is still very limited statistical evidence about its use, because the phenomenon is recent and rapidly evolving.
Most of what is known about the phenomenon of algorithmic management comes from research on digital labour platforms and platform workers. JRC research aims to provide valuable evidence through the Algorithmic Management and Platform Work survey (AMPWork) study.
The JRC AMPWork Algorithmic Management and Platform Work survey
The JRC AMPWork study provides evidence on platform work and algorithmic management.The study measures the prevalence and conditions of platform work, as well as the level and implications of algorithmic management in conventional occupations, based on a statistically representative survey on the workforce in two EU Member States (Germany and Spain).
The AMPWORK study finds that a relatively high proportions of workers use digital tools and are subject to digital monitoring and algorithmic management. The share ranges between 10-20%, among clerks and operators in high-technology industries, knowledge-intensive services, and public administration, and is higher for those working outside of their employer's premises, such as at home, in a vehicle, or in public spaces.
The automated allocation of work — or the assignment of shifts or working time via a digital device — is most common form of algorithmic management is, concerning 10% and 20% of German and Spanish workers sampled. A smaller share of workers is also allocated work activities, or has its pace of work determined by a digital device. Four percent of German workers and 11% of Spanish workers follow automated instructions or directions at work.
Case studies on algorithmic management in the Logistics and Healthcare Sectors
This ongoing project looks at algorithmic management in a global perspective: across different countries and sectors, with a focus on work organisation, job quality and industrial relations.
The project studies the logistics and healthcare sectors, in two European countries (Italy and France) and two non-European ones (South Africa and India). The logistics sector is at the frontline in terms of deployment of algorithmic management, making it an interesting sector to explore its use and impact in conventional work settings, beyond digital labour platforms. By contrast, in the healthcare sector remains limited and mostly associated to the introduction of digital labour platforms for the provision of on-location care services.
The project involves a series of case studies, conducted in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and results are expected in the Autumn of 2023.
Baiocco, S. and Fernández-Macías, E. (2022), Algorithmic management: A basic compass, JRC Science for Policy Brief on Labour, Education and Employment.
Urzì Brancati, M., C., Curtarelli , M., Riso, S., Baiocco, S. How digital technology is reshaping the art of management, European Commission, Seville, 2022, JRC130808.
Baiocco, S., Fernández-Macías, E., Rani, U. and Pesole, A., The Algorithmic Management of work and its implications in different contexts, Seville: European Commission, 2022, JRC129749.