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Dutch employers should discuss using algorithms in managing staff

Organisations are increasingly turning to algorithms to manage and evaluate various aspects of work. This form of algorithmic management can significantly affect employee autonomy, as highlighted in the comprehensive Own rhythm or algorithm report by Dutch research institutes TNO and Rathenau Institute.  

The report’s findings suggest that using automated analyses to distribute tasks, measure performances and allocate rewards can potentially erode employee control and hinder their ability to make independent decisions. 

Moreover, the researchers highlight various risks and challenges associated with algorithmic management. One of the main risks identified in the report is the risk of discrimination and bias in algorithms.

Because algorithms are trained on historical data, they can contain inherent biases that lead to discriminatory decisions, and these biases can take various forms such as gender, race or socio-economic.

As a result, algorithms can make decisions that amplify inequality and injustice, particularly for minority groups. This can lead to workplace and broader societal discrimination, which can have severe consequences for those involved and the image of organisations.

Privacy concerns  

Another significant risk highlighted in the report concerns privacy issues that may arise. Since algorithms often process large amounts of sensitive information, there is a risk that this information may be misused or unlawfully used. For example, employees may worry about privacy if algorithms collect and analyse personal data without their consent or knowledge.

This can lead to breaches of trust between employees and employers, which can disrupt the work environment and affect productivity. Additionally, the researchers see risks in terms of transparency and accountability. 

Algorithms are often complex and operate on large datasets, making it difficult to understand their functioning fully. This lack of transparency can make it challenging to account for the decisions made by algorithms, which can also damage trust between employer and employee.

Furthermore, the lack of openness can make identifying and addressing errors or biases in algorithms challenging, thereby increasing the risks of discrimination and privacy loss. 

The report is a preliminary study and shows how organisations in different sectors work with algorithmic management in various ways.

“How algorithmic management is deployed determines its effects on employees’ work experience,” says researcher Wouter van der Torre of TNO. “If they experience more control through technology, they may also experience less autonomy and more work pressure and burnout complaints.”

His colleague Djurre Das from the Rathenau Instituut adds that the increase in algorithmic management can significantly affect how people perform their work.

“Essential are the choices that organisations make,” says Das. “What goal do they want to pursue? What data do they want to collect for this? Where can employees go if they disagree with the choices made by algorithms? Employers and employees must now engage in this conversation.”

Responsible algorithm implementation 

In the report, the researchers offer several recommendations for Dutch organisations to handle this new trend responsibly. One of the main recommendations is the importance of transparency and accountability in organisations’ use of algorithms.

The researchers emphasise that organisations should be as open as possible about how algorithms are used and which criteria and data are used for decision-making. Transparency can increase the trust of employees and other stakeholders and help address privacy and fairness concerns. 

Another important recommendation is to take measures against discrimination and bias in algorithms. According to the researchers, organisations should actively develop and implement policies to prevent and combat this.

Additionally, the report emphasises the importance of maintaining human autonomy in work, even when algorithms are used to plan and monitor tasks. Organisations should ensure that employees retain a certain degree of control and independence in their work, allowing them to make independent decisions and organise their work. 

Advancing algorithmic dialogue  

According to the researchers, further research needs to be conducted on the impact of algorithmic management on work and autonomy, and the Netherlands should strive for a broad societal dialogue on its ethical and social implications.

By conducting more research and engaging in an open dialogue, organisations and policymakers can better understand how algorithms influence work and the work environment and develop more effective measures to mitigate any negative impact and maximise the benefits of algorithmic management. 

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