Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 3 2007, page 9-27.
Technology and work in Danish call centres
Between mass-production and customer service
Ole H. Sørensen
The paper focuses on technology and work in call centres. With its outset in an international research project, including an industry study and case studies of nine Danish call centres, the paper inquires into the issues of general and detailed control of the production process. The development of the Danish call centres confirms the relatively diverse picture drawn by international research papers. Possibilities for detailed control are present in all the call centres, but there are large differences in how the technologies are used. Tayloristic traits are clearly present. Work is being intensified, standardized, simplified, externally controlled and the time structure is changed fundamentally. However, resistance from workers and unions has in some cases lead to more varied work with higher job contents. Furthermore, the built-in contradiction between service quality and Taylorism forces the employers to relax on control issues. It is difficult to maintain a high service quality if the work becomes too boring and many of the managers in the study did not believe that they could secure quality through detailed control. The case studies show that the call centre technologies offer many possibilities for general control of the production process. These possibilities are used to relocate calls to remote locations or to subcontractors, thereby putting a latent pressure on the workforce. The Danish studies confirm the international picture that the job quality is lowest in the subcontracting call centres, due to intense competition, low complexity of the outsourced calls and problems with the IT integration. Overall, the job quality in Danish call centres is relatively high compared to other countries. Wages are higher and there is less use of monitoring and higher levels of influence. It is suggested that this is related to institutional differences such as the salaried workers act, the working environment regulation and the generally high level of organization in the Danish labour market.