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

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are indebted to the editor Catherine Connelly and the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions and constructive criticism that tremendously helped us to shape the arguments in this article. Moreover, we are grateful to Robert M. Bauer, the members of LOST (Leuphana University Organization Studies Group), and the attendees at various conferences (e.g. Reshaping Work Conference Amsterdam, Academy of Management Conference Boston, EGOS Colloquium Tallinn, International Human Resource Management Conference Madrid) for providing feedback and vital input. We also thank Claudia Scheba for her invaluable research assistance, as well as Lilith and Kathryn Dornhuber for aiding in preparing the manuscript. Lastly, our thanks go to the Hans-Böckler-Foundation and the IG Metall for supporting our research. The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article. This work was supported by the Hans Böckler Stiftung (Project Number 2017-291-2).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.