Part four of the book places employees central as recipients of human resource management who can think, act and feel. The case presented here concerns the organization of work in production chains of supplier organizations and the challenges this poses to realize decent work for all employees. The study questions at the end of the case relate to the chapter Decent work.
For strategic reasons, market leader in cloud computing Techcosit has outsourced sixty percent of all work to temporary staff (10%), agency workers (10%) and third party contracting firms (40%). Outsourced work happens in all levels and divisions of the organization, including amongst other security guards, call-center operations, test engineers, legal experts and data project managers. The numbers of employees in the entire production network of all supplying organizations and Techcosit itself amount around 50.000 employees.
The considerable fissured workforce at Techcosit diffuses the responsibility for human resource management. The human resource department takes care of contracts and employment conditions of permanent and temporary employees, but has little involvement in negotiations with temporary work agencies and supplier organizations. When the purchasing department negotiates with supplier organizations, economic interests like costs, deadlines and quality performance usually prevail over concern for good work.
For example, Techcosit outsources the production of instruction videos for their products to Samsam, a creative agency specialized in the artwork for online learning applications. The small company works with solo-self-employed creative workers hired on a needs base. May Sue is one of the creative employees who frequently works for Samsam on projects of Techcosit. This is what she tells about her job:
“The client that I work with is a demanding one. They have a high position in the market (...), and I find this a challenge for me, because I want to meet their requirements. I have to deliver my work correctly, even better than expected, for I am never sure if I will have a next project. I work more hours than my contract states. It is always more work if you want to do a good job, but Samsam management never dares to ask for more time. So we are in this vicious circle where I do not complain and just try to complete my projects. And because the job here is often in that state, well, everyone here assumes that Saturday and Sunday are working days. (...) There are projects, even if I want or not, I have to work on Saturdays, Sundays, and even work overtime at night to keep up. I feel that I am on the edge of my resources. The peak was last Thursday, when I went home at eight in the evening. I already bought food but I could only lie down, and did not know why my tears were falling, because I was so tired”.
Stories like these are common in a fissured workforce. The state of fragmented responsibilities for looking after employee wellbeing between Techcosit and supplier organizations worries human resources manager Sacco Soxe. He is proud of that his team at Techcosit can offer state of the art employment conditions to employees who have a contract with the organization. Not only are wages higher than at competitor organizations, but also opportunities for training and development and employee involvement are excellent for core employees. However, he often runs into conflict with the purchasing department. Contracts for outsourced work sometimes violate the simplest employment laws, let alone that these comprise of any of the more advanced people management practices his team implemented for core employees. He complains to a friend:
“In my heart, I detest how we as Techcosit deal with employees in outsourced work. But what can I do? It is true that when work is outsourced, Techcosit has no obligations for these employees beyond assuring that legal minimum employment conditions are met. I sometimes find it difficult to look myself in the eye as a human resource management professional. I wonder about the future of our profession in the reality of gig-economy jobs and the ongoing fissuring of employment”.
One day, Sacco Soxe decides to make a case for including decent work in Techcosit’s corporate social responsibility code. He believes that communicating a strategic vision on decent work would offer Techcosit, as a key player in the market, both moral and purchasing power in the production network. He hopes that by creating awareness for decent work, suppliers and purchasers will negotiate better contracts that improve the working lives of all employees, no matter their position in the production network.