Ambivalences of Autonomy and Control Under Digital Information Communication Technology Led Managerial Regimes.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Knut LAASER, Brandenburg University Cottbus, Germany
Heike JACOBSEN, Brandenburg University Cottbus, Germany
The methodical collection, storage, analysis and display of information of workers’ effort via sophisticated Digital Information Communication Technology (DICT) has gained increasing relevance. Yet, literature on digital performance management is characterized by a dichotomy: Much of the orthodox HR and management literature highlights (Armstrong, 2009) that employees gain autonomy thanks to DICT's ability to focus on individual strengths and weaknesses, identifying training and development needs. Meanwhile, critical sociological scholarship unravels that digital performance monitoring strengthens primarily managerial control linked with punitive practices (Laaser, 2016; McCabe, 2015; Taylor, 2013). Therein, research that provides a nuanced picture experiences of control as well as autonomy under DICT remains scant (Findlay and Thompson, 2017).

This presentation is informed by case study research from the German energy industry and the British banking industry. Utilizing Labour Process Theory, it explores how occupational communities (e.g. technical workers and service workers) in the Energy and Banking industry experience and react to DICT along the dynamics of control and autonomy. Thanks to the de- und re-regulation of the respective markets, both sectors witnessed significant transformations of the labour process.

The banking industry in the UK has been understood as a prime example of introducing performance management systems (PMS) with the help of DICT, aiming to increase profitability and product sales numbers (Laaser, 2016; Gall, 2017). Meanwhile, digital workforce management has been implemented in the energy industry to monitor the work of technicians that radically changed in the last decade due to a government led re-regulation of the market. The experience of both groups of employees converge towards a draconic digital regime that reduces radically autonomy and enhances managerial control. Yet, the presentation also discusses how both group of workers develope informal practices to sustain and create pockets of autonomy and regain some levels of control over their work.