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Horrible bosses: how algorithm managers are taking over the office
The 1999 cult classic film Office Space depicts Peter’s dreary life as a cubicle-dwelling software engineer. Every Friday, Peter tries to avoid his boss and the dreaded words: “I’m going to need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow.”
This scene is still popular on the internet nearly 25 years later because it captures troubling aspects of the employment relationship – the helplessness Peter feels, the fake sympathy his boss intones when issuing this directive, the never-ending demand for greater productivity.
There is no shortage of pop culture depictions of horrible bosses. There is even a film with that title. But things could be about to get worse. What is to be made of the new bosses settling into workplaces across all sectors: the algorithm managers?
The rise of algorithm management
The prospect of robots replacing workers is frequently covered in the media. But, it is not only labour that is being automated. Managers are too. Increasingly we see software algorithms assume managerial functions, such as screening job applications, delegating work, evaluating worker performance – and even deciding when employees should be fired.
The offloading of tasks from human managers to machines is only set to increase as surveillance and monitoring devices become increasingly sophisticated. In particular, wearable technology that can track employee movements.
From an employer’s point of view, there is much to be gained from transferring managers’ duties to algorithms. Algorithms lower business costs by automating tasks that take longer for humans to complete. Uber, with its 22,800 employees, can supervise 3.5 million drivers according to the latest yearly figures.
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