When Your Employees Refuse to be Eaten by Software
“Software is eating the world” is the pictorial representation of digital transformation. But what happens when your employees refuse to be eaten? For example, an Uber driver refusing to abide by the rules of Uber’s algorithm. Or similarly, a doctor refusing to accept an AI recommendation from the MRI. As an organization undergoes a digital transformation, one of the keys to enabling a successful role-out of new technologies is ensuring that employees are comfortable with the level of change. Recalcitrance from employees to digital transformation can set back your organization’s progress, and stymie an otherwise successful implementation. In that light, it is critical to view them as partners in the journey rather than as an obstacle. In organizations where digital reigns king, such as companies which rely upon algorithmic technologies to manage their employees, this dynamic challenges organizations daily. One dramatic case study of this phenomenon is Uber, which provides a powerful example of employee dissatisfaction with new technologies. As Uber continues to transform, employee resistance to change and algorithmic management has grown, according to a study quoted recently in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). Uber’s drivers are reliant upon the whim of an algorithm to assign them customers and determine their routes, fees, and more. This, according to the HBR, has left them feeling as though they are under constant surveillance, dehumanized, and understanding little about the algorithm which manages their daily lives. As a result, employees have been known to resist, whether by attempting to manipulate the algorithm, or by organizing in political forums without the knowledge of the company. To manage this problem, the HBR offers four best practices to mitigate the discomfort brought about by algorithmic management, which can be extrapolated out to broader challenges in digital adoption:
- Share information. In theory, algorithmic management can increase transparency, since even learning algorithms that are used to manage workers reflect a set of rules and procedures that comply with the strategic goals of upper management. It may not be possible to share the algorithm itself with workers, but company leadership can and should share with them the data and goals that informed it.
- Invite feedback. To counterbalance the unidirectional commands that the algorithm hands down to drivers, companies should find ways to democratically include them in decision-making, for example by involving them into committees or councils that discuss and negotiate work related internal regulations. Getting workers actively involved in discussions about the design of algorithm-driven systems would do much to build more engaged and supportive workforces.
- Build in human contact. People need people. Organizations should develop formal, supportive communities where workers feel like members and can make social connections. Adding a human element to the way people are managed will help workers feel less like they are being treated as machines.
- Build trust. Implementing benefits that improve worker’s welfare, such as providing financial support in case of illness, or better sick pay or maternity leave, may be a first step to humanizing the company and mitigating the anger of employees who are managed by faceless algorithms.
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