T4-02: Digitalisation: Voice and HRM

5 September 2019, 16:00–17:30

Chair: Karen Jaehrling


How to organize digital dirty work

A human relation approach

Jeonghun Kim, Korea University Business School
Heeeun Jang, Yonsei Business Research Institute

One of the newly emerging digital jobs, content moderation, is investigated in this research. Content moderation refers to the process by which social media platforms monitor and filter user-generated improper contents using human labor and artificial intelligence. Improper contents contain the pornographic, the obscene, the violent, the illegal, and the hateful. Because these contents could damage the advertising revenue of social media platforms, a growing number of employees are being hired to moderate them. As managing data is the fundamental building block of the digital economy, it is self-evident that content moderation becomes a salient and elementary job in the era of digitalization. Accordingly, in the present study, the ways to organize content moderators are reviewed, and especially a human relation approach as an organizing way is investigated through the case study.

According to prior literature, a tayloristic approach is known as a widespread way to organize content moderation tasks. Digitalized tasks are fragmented into the smallest components and globally distributed through crowdsourcing platforms such as Mechanical Turk and oDesk. Globally disperse and isolated moderators perform these microtasks and are rewarded by a piece-rate system. Under the condition that the number of tasks streamed into crowdsourcing platforms is volatile, fragmented workers constantly experience a sense of precariousness. Repetitive and tedious tasks engender a feeling of stress and exposure to inappropriate contents sometimes triggers psychological trauma. For these dark-sides, content moderation often is called “digital dirty work”. Based on this approach, the growth of digital economy results in low-grade jobs.

However, we investigate a company in the current research that utilized an alternative approach to organize content moderators. This company, which was established in 2013, represents itself as an elderly-friendly company. Four hundred fifty employees were employed in this company in 2018, of which average age is 60 years old, to mainly process contend moderation tasks such as map blurring, monitoring illegal and unethical postings, and managing flagged contents. Content moderation tasks have been subcontracted from various IT companies, including one of the biggest IT company in South Korea. The most intriguing point is that this company internalized elderly workforce rather than distributing content moderation tasks to crowdsourcing platforms. The emphasis was placed on core values such as equality, sharing, development to induce horizontal organizational culture. Most employees were employed as part-time employment which is suitable for the nature of elderly workforce, but guaranteed long-term contract. In addition, they were grouped by teams and worked together in the off-line workplaces. Various HR practices were adopted to increase employee motivation and skills, including socialization programs, intensive trainings, and fringe benefits.  

The internalization of workforce resulted in high performance in terms of productivity and quality. The interviews with several employees uncovered two mechanisms to explain this result: social identification and collective learning. First, employees’ social identification with occupation was an essential factor to lead to high performance. Since the elderly workforce is not rarely given the chance to participate in South Korea labor market, positive symbolic resources provided by company are effectively used by employees to reconstruct their positive -self. Many employees had a sense of mission about their job and called themselves as “digital county” rather than felt ashamed to do “digital dirty work”. The occupational identification induced a high level of employee involvement in the work process, and thus high-quality decision making. Second, collective learning, which is facilitated by HR practices, were effective to cope with improper contents that are always changing. Along with intensive training to develop employees’ human capital, social capital among employees fostered by team activities, socialization programs, and egalitarian culture led to collective learning and increased problem-solving skills. In sum, the internalization, based on the human relation approach, was effective to handle content moderation tasks that require ethical and contextual decision making and ongoing learning.

The results of this research showed that the human relation approach could be an effective way to organize digitalized microtasks. The tayloristic approach base on the premise that digitalization inevitably deteriorates the quality of existing jobs and generates low-grade jobs. However, fragmenting crowding workers has limitations in that the potential productivity embedded within social relations is overlooked. For this reason, HR practices designed to foster social relations within workplaces are still important to effectively process digitalized tasks. Especially, motivation coming from social meaning and collective learning through cooperation between co-workers could be utilized as core resources to increase organizations’ competitive advantage, which is not easy to be organized among crowding workers. In conclusion, this research sheds light on the importance of managing human resources in the era of digitalization.

The digitization of work in the view of works councils in Germany

Elke Ahlers, Institue for Economic and Social Research (WSI), Hans-Böckler-FoundationThe digital transformation of  work is a highly relevant topic for trade unions and works councils. Especially works councils experience the current developments at first hand: namely directly on the basis of the challenges, potentials and problems within their company.Therefore, WSI conducted a works councils survey in 2016 to obtain a cross-sectoral overview of the form in which digitalization occurs in the companies in Germany. The impact of digital transformation on the workforce has been examined. Above all, the working conditions of employees and codetermination issues have been surveyed.The findings  show clearly that the digital transformation is seen mostly positive by the majority of works councils and perceived as opportunity to reorganize the work. Topics such as working hours and qualification are high-rated on the agenda of works councils. Furthermore, the works councils observe critically the tendencies in increasing surveillance of employees and  therefore,  a deterioration of working conditions.

Monetary incentivized ratings on crowdsourcing platforms for paid work

Paul Hemsen, Paderborn University

This study focuses on monetary incentivized ratings (e.g. Five-Star-Ratings) for self-employed workers on so-called “crowdworking platforms”, i.e. crowdsourcing platforms for paid work. The main question is whether particular monetary incentivized ratings can support platforms in motivating and committing workers and at the same time allow workers to earn a sufficient and fair regular wage. Empirical evidence comes from new data gained on a questionnaire survey conducted in 2018 among some 600 workers on three German platforms. I would like to present the findings of the study at ILERA. The data are currently being processed. In the remainder of this abstract, I will discuss the theoretical background and will present first descriptive findings from the survey.

Like other organizations, crowdworking platforms need to attract, motivate and commit workers. Platforms who coordinate highly skilled tasks such as designing, testing, or texting platforms are particularly dependent on skilled workers. These workers, in turn, are not bound to one platform only and are free to leave or not contribute to a particular platform.

Findings from the survey support these assumptions. 597 Workers from three platforms (two microtask-platforms and one texting-platform) were asked about various aspects of their work and their personal background. The workers are highly educated (46.4% with an academic degree, 41.54% with a vocational training) and therefore potentially qualified for different tasks. They are on average active on 2.6 platforms with an average membership of 3 years on at least one of the three surveyed platforms.

First results of the survey seem to indicate that workers’ expectations on their crowdwork activities are not met by the present conditions. Workers report as their reasons for doing crowdwork: a better coordination between work and personal life; a source of income; improvement of financial situation; performing interesting tasks. When we compare expectations and actual conditions, many workers seem to miss an appropriate balance between their effort and the income they receive and a fair appraisal of the results they deliver.

Platforms with a need for specific skills are well advised to take the unmet expectations into consideration as they may harm worker motivation and commitment. In particular, short-term and narrow, task-oriented compensation systems on these platforms are a potential cause for unmet expectations.

More long-term oriented, monetary incentivized ratings may be favorable to both the platforms and the workers. Such ratings assign a particular predefined rating (e.g. Stars; Level) or status level to each registered worker, based on experience, measured performance or subjective appraisals by the platform, peers or clients. This approach is especially supported by the concepts of standards in rank-order tournaments (Lazear & Gibbs, 2009) and goal-setting theory (Locke & Latham, 2002). Such ratings may also combine different rewards such as pay or access to particular tasks in an ingenious way.

Today, only few crowdworking platforms have implemented such ratings. Examples include the testing-platform Applause; texting platforms such as Content.de and Textbroker; and designing platforms such as 99Designs, DesignenLassen, Fotolia, AdobeStock and iStockphoto. In these platforms, pay still is attached to the execution of a particular task, of a particular quality, but it also depends on the worker’s prior achievement as measured by rating or status level. Since other rewards may also be differentiated by level, such as the access to an extended task pool, a monetary incentivized rating is potentially able to address extrinsic motivation (for instance through additional monetary compensation and reputations concerns) (Bayus, 2010; Brabham, 2008; Leimeister, Huber, Bretschneider, & Krcmar, 2009) as well as intrinsic motivation (for instance through self-satisfaction and personal development) (Chittilappilly, Chen, & Amer-Yahia, 2016). Yet the existing empirical literature remains largely unclear as to whether such monetary compensated ratings are indeed effective in increasing work participation and performance; and worker’s commitment towards the platform (Goes, Guo, & Lin, 2016).

The survey also includes for the first time information on workers’ perception of the incentive system: appropriateness of evaluation and the result rewards; transparency; perceived influences on the factors income, task pool, success on platform, motivation and recognition through different parties (platform, client, peers). Interestingly, these dimensions were rated more favorably by workers on one texting platform we surveyed than by workers on two microtask platforms – the latter do not have monetary incentivized rating whereas as the first one does.

The survey also includes findings on workers’ platform commitment. For example, we find that perceived continuance commitment towards the platform is slightly stronger than affective commitment, which is not surprising given the predominance of monetary motivation for participation. Workers of the texting platform report the highest level of affective and continuance commitment towards the platform. In line with this, 74% of workers of the texting platform intend to continue this relation for at least another year, compared to a share of 56% and 62% for the two microtask platforms. Further analysis will show to what extent the rating system explains these findings. In addition, I will analyze how participation and performance differ within and between the performance ratings on different platforms.

This research should help to shed light on the important role of incentive systems, especially monetary incentivized ratings, in this highly flexible working environment. More long-term oriented incentive systems may be favorable to both workers and platforms: Platforms may be able to find, motivate, and commit more qualified workers; and workers may generate more appropriate pay levels and interesting tasks, which would be an important step to creating a more desirable digital working environment.


  • Bayus, B. 2010. Crowdsourcing and individual creativity over time: The detrimental effects of past success.
  • Brabham, D. C. 2008. Crowdsourcing as a Model for Problem Solving. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 14(1): 75–90.
  • Chittilappilly, A. I., Chen, L., & Amer-Yahia, S. 2016. A Survey of General-Purpose Crowdsourcing Techniques. IEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data Engineering, 28(9): 2246–2266.
  • Goes, P. B., Guo, C., & Lin, M. 2016. Do Incentive Hierarchies Induce User Effort?: Evidence from an Online Knowledge Exchange. Information Systems Research, 27(3): 497–516.
  • Lazear, E. P., & Gibbs, M. 2009. Personnel economics in practice (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  • Leimeister, J. M., et al. 2009. Leveraging Crowdsourcing: Activation-Supporting Components for IT-Based Ideas Competition. Journal of Management Information Systems, 26(1): 197–224.
  • Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. 2002. Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9): 705–717.


Subscribe to RSS - T4-02: Digitalisation: Voice and HRM