Algorithms are becoming more widespread in many parts of our lives. The workplace is no exception, with a rise in what has been termed 'algorithmic management'. This presents new opportunities to improve workplace outcomes, as well as new concerns and risks for workers. This report, produced by IPA for Acas, seeks to examine this trend from both a practical and ethical perspective, in an attempt to provide answers to the following questions:

• Where are algorithms being used in the workplace and how widespread is their adoption?

• How can algorithms be used to improve workplace outcomes?

• What are the unintended consequences that algorithms can have and how can they worsen
workplace outcomes?

• What future risks and opportunities of the growing use of algorithmic management can be
identified? Do they have the potential to significantly change the employment relationship?

• How should responsible employers approach the use of algorithms in the workplace and
discussion about them with the workforce?

The introduction to this report sets out the definitions of algorithms, AI and machine learning and the different kinds of algorithmic management taking place in the UK. Specifically, this report has identified and explored three main areas of use: algorithmic recruitment, algorithmic task-allocation and algorithmic monitoring and performance review of the workforce. These are each explored in detail in their own chapters.

The report then turns to look at the opportunities and risks that algorithmic management presents. There are two obvious benefits on offer – improved productivity through time saved and more efficient decision-making; and new insights into workplace behaviour, human relationships or other trends as a result of vast data processing that can enable whole new solutions to workplace problems. There are two obvious risks and drawbacks – a threat of increased management control without corresponding consent from the workforce, particularly in areas of surveillance and performance monitoring; and a danger of eroding human autonomy by replacing the personal
relationships of line managers and their reports with a dehumanized system of being managed by a machine. Finally, there are two related areas that could be both opportunities and risks – the impact of algorithms on increasing or reducing bias and on increasing or reducing accuracy of decision making. Depending on how the technology is used and how suitable the tasks are to which it is allocated, algorithmic management has the potential to greatly improve or greatly worsen outcomes on either of those fronts.

This report concludes with a look at the ethics of algorithmic management and the approach responsible employers should take when considering these tools, if they want to maximize the opportunities and minimise the risks.

Download the full report here.