Microphones, not megaphones: Functional crowdworker voice regimes on digital work platforms

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Digital work platforms are often said to view crowdworkers as replaceable cogs in the machine, favouring exit rather than voice as a means of resolving concerns. Based on a qualitative study of six German medium-sized platforms offering a range of standardized and creative tasks, we show that platforms provide voice mechanisms, albeit in varying degrees and levels. We find that all platforms in our sample enabled crowdworkers to communicate task-related issues to ensure crowdworker availability and quality output. Five platforms proactively consulted crowdworkers on task-related issues, and two on platform-wide organisation. Differences in the ways in which voice was implemented were driven by considerations about costs, control and a crowd’s social structure, as well as by platforms’ varying interest in fair work standards. We conclude that the platforms in our sample equip crowdworkers with ‘microphones’ by letting them have a say on workflow improvements in a highly controlled and easily mutable setting, but do not provide ‘megaphones’ for co-determining or even controlling platform decisions. By connecting the literature on employee voice with platform research, our study provides a nuanced picture of how voice is technologically and organisationally enabled and constrained in non-standard, digital work contexts.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)1473-1503
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 09.2021