Future of work

Algorithmic management practices in regular workplaces are already a reality

While it can improve productivity and service quality, algorithmic management also presents risks to workers’ surveillance and job quality, particularly if there aren’t robust legal safeguards.

News | 26 February 2024
BRUSSELS (ILO News) - Algorithmic management practices are expanding to regular workplaces in several sectors, confirms a new report jointly written by the ILO and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

The report Algorithmic Management practices in regular workplaces: case studies in logistics and healthcare studies the impact of such practices on work organisation, job quality and industrial relations, focussing on the logistics and healthcare sectors in European (France, Italy) and non-European countries (India and South Africa). Some 80 constituents, academia and representatives from the EU institutions attended the launch in Brussels.

Algorithmic management - the use of algorithms and data-driven systems to make decisions, allocate tasks, direct work, manage and coordinate workflows in organizations – is already a reality. In the healthcare sector, hospital information systems and digital healthcare platforms are being used to manage work. In the logistics sector, technologies such as robotics and mobile scanning are frequently used.

In many instances, algorithmic tools have important effects on the organisation of work, task allocation, job quality and industrial relations. Whilst algorithmic management is used globally, there are important sectoral and geographical differences. Algorithmic management can increase productivity and service quality, but it also poses risks related to worker surveillance and job quality, particularly in the absence of robust legal safeguards.

These technologies have a different impact on job quality and working conditions in the European and the non-European cases. The evidence collected in Italy and France shows a generally positive impact of the introduction of digital tools on job quality and no immediate evidence of a higher level of worker monitoring and surveillance.

The negative impact on job quality is far more evident in South Africa than in India and, importantly, there is clear evidence of increased worker monitoring and surveillance, and increased work intensity. These differences show that the impact of algorithmic management in regular workplaces appears to be at least partly mediated by the institutional and the regulatory frameworks in place.

“Social dialogue and strong industrial relations are key to ensure that employers and workers can mitigate the possible negative impact on job quality and that workers are protected,” said Uma Rani, Senior Economist and co-author of the report.

The report is part of a series of joint publications that together represent the main final outcomes of a 2.5-year joint research project on the changing nature of work at a global level.