Procedures as a form of behavior and value control: The case of a telephone call center

The work in telephone platforms is characterized by the strong and restrictive presence of enforcement procedures. Moreover, unusual data in “office work” have appeared: productivity and throughput, profitability, automated lines, and so on. Individuals are therefore subject to increased and unique control. It is in fact based on surveillance, and in particular electronic surveillance, and procedures for performing the tasks imposed on tale-operators. We will focus on a specific company specializing in the outsourcing of debt collection. It is a job “unlike any other”, which arouses disapproval and, above all, a negative moral judgment on the part of those very people who are called upon to exercise it.

The starting point of our approach was the observation of the intensity of control and surveillance in this environment, of which we were part at one point. Our study was conducted through a series of semi-structured interviews with call center employees. That admitted, what is the meaning of this complex system of control which at first glance appears to be “one-up”? We believe that it is by no means a question of “managerial clumsiness” or tyranny, but of a management tool thought out and rationally conceived in order to manage a complex situation of potential or proven conflicts of values ​​between the hierarchy and the performers. This is the heart of our hypothesis in this work.

It is a management which challenges with regular “events” disconcerting at first sight like call center agent monitoring software or excessive remonstrance’s; meticulous timing of break times, very “time consuming” for the hierarchy; questioning of equity and the rule; regular upheaval in the layout of workstations, etc. Why waste precious hierarchical time monitoring in a heavy and intense way when this does not seem to have a significant effect on the productivity of individuals and even generates significant stress and tensions? It is not automatic, in fact, that such an operation takes place in telephone call centers. While it is true that the technological environment in telephone platforms deeply structures the working environment and control relationships – because “these are the modalities of planning, allocation, control and management.

 Monitoring of work which is in the process of changing through increased automation” (Johansen and Gauthronet, 1998, p. 7) – the nature of the control system nevertheless depends on the political will of management. Indeed, “for some, this means more resources and possibilities for initiative; for others, increased specialization of work. The common feature [despite everything] of these developments: the employee is the object of more control than in the past” (ibid., p. 8). There is therefore a space for management configuration of the form that work and the employment relationship takes.

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About the Author: Jacob Wyatt