“Help, my employer is using algorithmic management!”

“I changed jobs to become a truck driver and my new boss is… an AI that spy on me 24/7!” (Photo: 123RF)

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1651597415 634 Help my employer is using algorithmic management

Q. – “I have just changed jobs to become a truck driver. I told myself that it would allow me to be 100% independent, without constant bosses on my back. And what do I discover? How much worse! My employer uses what he calls “algorithmic management”, which means that my immediate boss is no longer a human, but an artificial intelligence that monitors me all the time, every hour, every minute, every second. Should I change employers to finally find human management or even change jobs?”Ludo

A. — Dear Ludo, I understand your disappointment at having an artificial intelligence (AI) new boss, but know that this is a growing trend in trucking today. If only because the law prevents trucking companies from driving their employees “too long”, the idea being to avoid road accidents caused by fatigue. In this sense, an AI is a priori an effective and inexpensive solution.

A recent study led by Antoine Bujold, doctoral student in human resources management at HEC Montréal, shows that trucking companies today use AI mainly for two things:

– Surveillance. Driving hours are recorded and automatically counted. Data is also collected in real time (fuel consumption, speed, geolocation, vehicle diagnostics, cargo status, etc.). “Driving is particularly monitored, depending on braking and acceleration habits, just to be able to optimize it”, indicated Antoine Bujold last week during a webinar on algorithmic management organized by the International Observatory on societal impacts of AI and digital technology (OBVIA).

— Performance management. The evaluation of the performance of each trucker can be done on a daily or weekly basis. If the employer prefers, this can even be done continuously, with the AI ​​indicating in real time to the truck driver what he should do immediately to optimize his work. “Of course, it is therefore easy to compare the performance of truckers,” said the researcher.

Result? A multiplication of managerial evils. According to the study, truckers generally feel a deep “sense of injustice”, “anxiety”, “stress”, a “loss of trust in the employer”, a “sense of psychological contract”, a “disengagement from work” and a “sense of dehumanization of the organization”. Which shouldn’t surprise you, Ludo, since a bit of this all comes through in your email.

Pamela Lirio, professor of human resources management at the School of Industrial Relations at the University of Montreal, speaks squarely of “digital Taylorism” on this subject. That is to say the reduction of the worker to the simplest expression of his work force, under the constant yoke of an AI. And therefore, to a modern form of absolute exploitation of the human being in his daily work.

A stark example: platform workers, i.e. those who do piecework for a website, under the direct supervision of an AI (Uber drivers, Handy home cleaners, Amazon Mechanical Turk workers, etc.). They already represent 8% of the workforce in Canada, reveal the work of Benjamin Semujanga, finishing a master’s degree in human resources management from HEC Montreal.

The question is obvious: is there a way to mitigate the negative impacts of algorithmic management?

Several studies are currently being conducted on this subject, particularly in Quebec. Recent work by Xavier Parent-Rocheleau, professor of human resources management at HEC Montréal, seems to point to three interesting avenues:

— Transparency. Employees accept being managed by an AI a little better if the employer takes the time to explain to them the “why” and the “how” of this managerial approach. Because it contributes to reducing “professional insecurity” (for example, the fear of being made redundant by a robot that only looks at performance figures), or even “asymmetry of information and power” (the employer has full control over the employee’s data, and the employee no longer has any).

— Style of management. The employer must adapt their management style so that the addition of an AI is not perceived as a “dehumanization” of human resources, but as a “plus” that facilitates the work of HR managers.

— Political regulation. When governments begin to regulate AI work, worker acceptance is expected to improve significantly. Because this should lead to “less stress”, “less anxiety”, or even a “less feeling of injustice”.

In short, Ludo, do not look for a new job if you have chosen one that you like. Don’t look for another employer either, as AI is set to take a growing place in trucking. It is better, I think, to start a discussion with your employer, and thus lead him to explain to you the “why” and the “how”. Because, as we have just seen, it will be a win-win for him as well as for you and your colleagues.

This is because progress is only worthwhile if it is shared by all. Indeed, the American car manufacturer Henry Ford said it himself: “Enthusiasm is the basis of all progress.”

We want to give thanks to the author of this write-up for this remarkable material

“Help, my employer is using algorithmic management!”

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