Systems of management

The Controls and Constraints of Workers in a Call Centre Environment

This essay will look at the systems of management control within the O2 call centre in Bury, Lancashire and how the management of this centre are increasingly deskilling the labour force employed there. I aim to explain how this has been achieved by first detailing the methods that I have used, then showing the results from these methods followed by a detailed analysis into my findings, I will then finish by drawing my conclusions. I feel that it is important to investigate the way in which firms like this control their employees not only because I believe these methods to be in many cases intrusive, but also because of the higher than average turnover rates seen within call centre environments.

In order for me to effectively investigate the processes within the O2 environment I will use two different techniques, the first will be online research, this will give an external perspective on O2's working environment, the second will be an interview of an O2 employee called Louise Whyte who has worked for the group for the past four years and will be able to give an actual account of the company's management process. I have chosen these two methods because of the contrast between them, in getting two very different viewpoints we are able to examine the company from different angles. Whilst researching the company in preparation for the interview with Louise, I was able to find material detailing how O2 had improved its facilities (www.lightingdirectory.com:366), emphasis has been placed in this article on these changes creating a happier and healthier workplace. O2 has also spent a great deal of time showing how it makes employees happier whilst they are working and there is literature on the O2 website (www.o2careers.com) detailing the benefits in working for O2 such as subsidised cafeteria, breakout rooms and games consoles. It is interesting to note then that very little could be found on their practices of management or how their call centres are organised. With this in mind my interview with Louise was focused around how work was organised in the O2 office and what autonomy she felt that she had over her working day. To sum up the outcome of the interview Louise said that she worked in a team of nine other people dealing with customer service enquiries, when a customer phones the O2 call centre their call is routed to the appropriate team to deal with, each team is specially trained to deal with a specific set of problems. When a call comes through to the call handler it is automatically answered by the handlers computer software, this software then monitors the length of the call, how many calls are queued for each team as well as recording the conversation digitally. Louise spoke about how although her basic salary was quite poor she was incentivised per quarter to hit targets that could potentially give her an extra 30% of her annual pay, these bonuses are dependent on her satisfying four different targets: Length of call time, amount of time 'active', Lateness and percentage of customers that don't call back and are therefore satisfied. The main complaints that Louise had about the management process was that it was automated management, for example, each employee is given a key card that needs to be used when entering each part of the building, it must also be used to access the computer and phone system, employees line managers are then sent breakdowns each week of their timekeeping, amount of time spent working, amount and length of toilet breaks.

Following the results of this interview and the research done into the company, there are several points that are important in analysing the foundations of the company's management. If we begin by analysing parts of Louise's interview, we can see a strong division of labour, if all employees are split into teams of 8 and have specific tasks to work on then there is only a need to train them in very specific areas, very few of the 800 employees will have knowledge of how to undertake any other tasks than those they have been assigned, and this was understood by Braverman in his book Labor and Monopoly Capital (Mayo 1974) "Every step in the labor process is divorced, so far as possible, from special knowledge and training and reduced to simple labor." (Braverman 1998:57) This has clearly been achieved according to Louise who not only has no control over what tasks she undertakes, but also has no control over when she undertakes them as calls are routed directly to her desk and are automatically answered. It is also important that we look at the working conditions within the O2 call centre, on the one hand there are obvious references to scientific management through the use of the employee 'keys' that are used to monitor how much work is being achieved, this is a system that Taylor would have been proud of in preventing what he called "systematic soldiering" (Taylor 1967) which is the process whereby workers will collude together to produce the lowest possible output. The phone system also represents a Taylorised system in that it takes all control away from the workforce, they are told when to answer calls and are then incentivised with bonuses if they are able to keep set service standards, this again is a concept devised by Taylor as "initiative and incentive". (Taylor 1967:35) On the other hand we have evidence that O2 are improving working conditions for their employees and this has been highlighted from the online research , in this specific instance O2 improving the lighting within the call centre, interestingly you can draw direct parallels between this work and the examples that Mayo gave in his book The Social Problems of and Industrial Civilization (Mayo 1949) and Mayo demonstrated that through improving the lighting in a workshop he was able to increase productivity. Mayo also discussed the subject of teams or groups of people and it is important to note that whilst there has been a division of labour, O2 has created small, intimate groups of workers or "a self governing team, and a team that co-operated whole-heartedly with management" (Mayo 1949:72) it is no wonder then that O2 is keen to promote social events within the working teams as it is likely to result in increased productivity and decrease the turnover of employees as Mayo found in his experiments.

In summary, it is interesting that concepts such as Taylorism are not only still in use in modern industry, but that they have evolved with the advancements in technology such as the 'key' system that is used within O2 to unsure that capital is generating as much excess labour as possible. On the whole, Louise liked her work with O2 and this is in no small part due to the groups of people that she works with and the investment that has been made by O2 into welfare of its people, but ultimately, she is still controlled by processes that originated in a steel mill nearly a century ago.

References

  • Venture Lighting Europe ltd, 2nd April 2007, Venture Help Improve Visual Environment at O2 Call Centre, Available online at www.lightingdirectory.com/news/article/366 (accessed 08/12/09)
  • Telefonica Europe Plc, Our Locations, Available online at http://www.o2careers.co.uk/customerservice/our_locations_bury.php (accessed 07/12/09)
  • Braverman H. 1998, Labor and Monopoly Capital, Monthly Review Press, New York
  • Taylor F. 1967, The Principles of Scientific Management. Norton. London
  • Mayo E. 1949 The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization. Routledge. Oxon

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