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60

Management

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notes

Woodcock, J. (2016). Management. In Woodcock, J. Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centers. Pluto Press, pp. 60-96

74

The buzz session is one example of how supervisors attempt to motivate workers in call centres. The two trainers who led these sessions always stressed how important it was to be in the right mood to sell. The problem for management is how you go about doing this. None of the workers want to be at work, as is common in these kinds of part-time jobs. Most have other interests, passions or things they would rather be doing. The buzz session is an attempt, as Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming argue, ‘to inject life into the dead-zone of work’. This means management actively encouraging workers to ‘just be yourself!’. The characteristics discouraged in the Fordist workplaces of the past are now demanded: personality, quirks, different tastes and so on. Despite the regulation of the labour process, ‘there is no better call center worker than the one who can improvise around the script’. This requires the worker to ‘breathe life into a dead role and pretend their living death is in fact the apogee of life’.

ooof this is brutal

—p.74 by Jamie Woodcock 5 years, 5 months ago

The buzz session is one example of how supervisors attempt to motivate workers in call centres. The two trainers who led these sessions always stressed how important it was to be in the right mood to sell. The problem for management is how you go about doing this. None of the workers want to be at work, as is common in these kinds of part-time jobs. Most have other interests, passions or things they would rather be doing. The buzz session is an attempt, as Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming argue, ‘to inject life into the dead-zone of work’. This means management actively encouraging workers to ‘just be yourself!’. The characteristics discouraged in the Fordist workplaces of the past are now demanded: personality, quirks, different tastes and so on. Despite the regulation of the labour process, ‘there is no better call center worker than the one who can improvise around the script’. This requires the worker to ‘breathe life into a dead role and pretend their living death is in fact the apogee of life’.

ooof this is brutal

—p.74 by Jamie Woodcock 5 years, 5 months ago
80

[...] Bentham argues that when dealing with workers: ‘whatever be the manufacture, the utility of the principle is obvious and incontestable, in all cases where the workmen are paid according to their time’. He foresaw an application for the Panopticon to remedy the indeterminacy of labour power. Bentham compares this to pay ‘by the piece’ which he regards as the superior method of payment for work. In this case, the workers’ interest ‘in the value of ’ their ‘work supersedes the use of coercion, and of every expedient calculated to give force to it’. This is a move away from direct control, instead providing workers with rewards to motivate themselves. It is also an attempt to get workers to internalise the demands of work. In the call centre the employer purchases labour-power for a set time and pays an hourly rate for shifts. However, the sales bonus introduces an element of piece-work.

The call centre Panopticon is not recreated exactly along the lines described by Bentham. There is no central tower from which the supervisors can simultaneously observe all workers, while remaining unobserved themselves. The computer surveillance is clearly analogous, offering the potential to interrogate each worker without their knowledge. Yet the arrangement of the call-centre floor is also reminiscent of the Panopticon. Each row of desks has a supervisor seated at the end. From here they can observe individual workers, both their physical performance and their computer screens. [...]

—p.80 by Jamie Woodcock 5 years, 5 months ago

[...] Bentham argues that when dealing with workers: ‘whatever be the manufacture, the utility of the principle is obvious and incontestable, in all cases where the workmen are paid according to their time’. He foresaw an application for the Panopticon to remedy the indeterminacy of labour power. Bentham compares this to pay ‘by the piece’ which he regards as the superior method of payment for work. In this case, the workers’ interest ‘in the value of ’ their ‘work supersedes the use of coercion, and of every expedient calculated to give force to it’. This is a move away from direct control, instead providing workers with rewards to motivate themselves. It is also an attempt to get workers to internalise the demands of work. In the call centre the employer purchases labour-power for a set time and pays an hourly rate for shifts. However, the sales bonus introduces an element of piece-work.

The call centre Panopticon is not recreated exactly along the lines described by Bentham. There is no central tower from which the supervisors can simultaneously observe all workers, while remaining unobserved themselves. The computer surveillance is clearly analogous, offering the potential to interrogate each worker without their knowledge. Yet the arrangement of the call-centre floor is also reminiscent of the Panopticon. Each row of desks has a supervisor seated at the end. From here they can observe individual workers, both their physical performance and their computer screens. [...]

—p.80 by Jamie Woodcock 5 years, 5 months ago
93

The workplace is therefore a ‘contested terrain’, to quote the title of Edwards’s book. There are three component parts that form a ‘system of control’ or ‘the social relations of production within the firm’. The first is ‘direction’, the way in which workers are instructed to complete tasks. The script and the automatic call dialler structure this for the call-centre worker. The second is ‘evaluation’, how the employer supervises and assesses worker performance. For example, the electronic surveillance systems, metrics and call listening. The third is ‘discipline’, the methods management use ‘to elicit cooperation and enforce compliance with the capitalist’s direction of the labour process’. In the call centre this is a combination of bonuses and punishments. The buzz sessions, the ‘1-2-1’ meetings and the threat of summary dismissal. These three aspects provide a starting point for understanding management in the call centre.

—p.93 by Jamie Woodcock 5 years, 5 months ago

The workplace is therefore a ‘contested terrain’, to quote the title of Edwards’s book. There are three component parts that form a ‘system of control’ or ‘the social relations of production within the firm’. The first is ‘direction’, the way in which workers are instructed to complete tasks. The script and the automatic call dialler structure this for the call-centre worker. The second is ‘evaluation’, how the employer supervises and assesses worker performance. For example, the electronic surveillance systems, metrics and call listening. The third is ‘discipline’, the methods management use ‘to elicit cooperation and enforce compliance with the capitalist’s direction of the labour process’. In the call centre this is a combination of bonuses and punishments. The buzz sessions, the ‘1-2-1’ meetings and the threat of summary dismissal. These three aspects provide a starting point for understanding management in the call centre.

—p.93 by Jamie Woodcock 5 years, 5 months ago
94

[...] In the workplace the manager is formally in control, yet still has to achieve this in practice. Goodrich uses the notion of a ‘frontier of control’ in the workplace to capture this dynamic. Imagine the workplace as a battlefield. On one side is management, and on the opposing side workers. The ‘frontier of control’ is like the invisible border between the two. Skirmishes can push this border further onto one side or the other. Attempts to do this provoke a response, while gains in one area can be lost in others. The location of the frontier is not a given, rather it is in flux and constituted through struggle.

useful concept

—p.94 by Jamie Woodcock 5 years, 5 months ago

[...] In the workplace the manager is formally in control, yet still has to achieve this in practice. Goodrich uses the notion of a ‘frontier of control’ in the workplace to capture this dynamic. Imagine the workplace as a battlefield. On one side is management, and on the opposing side workers. The ‘frontier of control’ is like the invisible border between the two. Skirmishes can push this border further onto one side or the other. Attempts to do this provoke a response, while gains in one area can be lost in others. The location of the frontier is not a given, rather it is in flux and constituted through struggle.

useful concept

—p.94 by Jamie Woodcock 5 years, 5 months ago