Big data analytics continues to transform the human resources function, including using algorithms to manage people, improving talent acquisition strategies, and increasing workplace diversity with data-driven strategies. In this new world, HR leaders are constantly challenged to balance the business benefits of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) with the impact they may have on the company’s current employees and future hires.
A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article looked at the impact of using algorithms to manage people by examining a survey of Uber drivers. According to the article, “Uber substantially increases its efficiency by managing some three million workers with an app that instructs drivers which passengers to pick up and which route to take.” In practice, algorithmic management uses technological tools and techniques to manage remote workers, using data collection and surveillance of workers to enable automated or semi-automated management and decision making.
While the Uber driver survey results did uncover several positive benefits of algorithmic management, including letting drivers set their own hours and determine which areas that they want to work in, the researchers at HBR also discovered that the practice led to frustration and potentially bad behavior by workers. Specifically, the researchers found that drivers were under “constant surveillance” from the moment they logged onto their Uber app to being told which routes to drive to potentially being penalized or banned from the platform. This non-stop scrutiny can lead to reduced productivity, according to the researchers.
The HBR researchers also found that Uber drivers were frustrated by a lack of transparency when being remotely managed by the app, as well as how the app collected customer reviews. This lack of a complete understanding of how the app works led drivers to believe the system was unfair and manipulative. Finally, drivers reported feeling isolated as a result of remote working and remote management, lacking a supervisor or co-workers to connect with as part of their jobs.
In closing, the HBR article offers up four tips to help improve algorithmic management, and tips on how to get the balance between people and technology right when adopting these new and emerging management practices, including:
- Share information: The HBR article recommends sharing the data and goals for algorithmic management and being transparent with employees on how it is used.
- Invite feedback: Companies should find ways for employees to participate in decision making versus being solely driven by algorithms that manage them.
- Build in human contact: The article suggests companies develop “formal, supportive communities” to help workers make connections with other people and feel like part of a team.
- Build trust: Providing benefits that can help offset the negative impact of “faceless algorithms” can help humanize the company, including sick pay and maternity leave, for example.
If you’d like to learn more, read the complete Harvard Business Review article.