Algorithmic Management in the Workplace

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* Report: EXPLAINER: Algorithmic Management in the Workplace. By ALEXANDRA MATEESCU and AIHA NGUYEN. Data & Society February 2019

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"Algorithmic management is a diverse set of technological tools and techniques to remotely manage workforces, relying on data collection and surveillance of workers to enable automated or semi-automated decision-making. Many of the characteristics of algorithmic management—such as consumer-sourced rating systems and automated “nudges”—were developed by companies of the “sharing” or “gig” economy. These practices have spurred debates over employee classification, as “gig” economy companies classify workers as independent contractors even as they use technology to exert control over their workforces.

And algorithmic management is becoming more common in other work contexts beyond “gig” platforms. Within delivery and logistics, companies from UPS to Amazon to grocery chains are using automated systems to optimize delivery workers’ daily routes. Domestic workers and hotel housekeepers are increasingly remotely tracked and managed through software. In retail and service industries, automated scheduling is replacing managers’ discretion over employee schedules, while the work of evaluating employees is being transferred to consumer-sourced rating systems." (



"Algorithmic management can describe systems of varying degrees of complexity, but they typically include:

• Prolific data collection and surveillance of workers through technology; • Real-time responsiveness to data that informs management decisions; • Automated or semi-automated decision-making; • Transfer of performance evaluations to rating systems or other metrics; and • The use of “nudges” and penalties to indirectly incentivize worker behaviors. "



Effects on Labor


"Adoption of these technologies is generating new challenges for workers’ rights in four broad areas:

• Surveillance and control: Technology-enabled surveillance can generate new speed and efficiency pressures for workers and may lock workers out from important aspects of decision making, such as being able to use personal discretion.

• Transparency: Algorithmic management can create power imbalances that may be difficult to challenge without access to how these systems work as well as the resources and expertise to adequately assess them.

• Bias and discrimination: If used to make decisions about workers, tools like consumer-sourced rating systems can introduce biased and discriminatory practices towards workers.

• Accountability: Algorithmic management can be used to distance companies from the effects of their business decisions, obscuring specific decisions made about how a system should function."