Controlling Working Crowds: The Impact of Digitalization on Worker Autonomy and Monitoring Across Hierarchical Levels

Elisa Gerten, Michael Beckmann and Lutz Bellmann

Abstract

This study investigates the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on worker autonomy and monitoring using the second wave of the German Linked Personnel Panel, a linked employer-employee data set. From a theoretical point of view, the impact of ICT on workplace organization is ambiguous. On the one hand, the fast diffusion of ICT among employees makes it possible to monitor professional activities, leading to greater centralization. On the other hand, ICT enable employees to work more autonomously, so that workplace organization becomes more decentralized. Based on ordinary least squares and instrumental variable estimates, we find that ICT promotes both centralization and decentralization tendencies. Furthermore, managerial employees are more affected by ICT-induced monitoring and autonomy than their non-managerial counterparts. Finally, the effect of digital ICT on employee autonomy is more pronounced than the corresponding effect on employee monitoring. Again, this does especially hold for managerial employees. All in all, our results support the view that unlike prior technological revolutions digitalization primarily affects the employment prospects and working conditions of employees at medium and higher hierarchical levels.

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