[Excerpt] This article examines the relationship between collective bargaining institutions and high-involvement management practices in new service workplaces, based on case study and survey evidence from U.S. and German call centers. Call centers are a particularly good setting for a comparative study of work organization. The number of call center jobs has grown rapidly, as firms in most industries have made them the central mechanism for interacting with customers.
At the same time, standardized call center technologies have diffused worldwide, leading managers to adopt similar approaches to call distribution, productivity measurement, the use of electronic monitoring to manage employee behavior, and workflow standardization. These establishments also face a common set of competitive conditions, with high cost pressures and unpredictable demand flows. They thus represent a constrained work setting in which skill levels and the bargaining power of workers and unions are typically low. Finally, because call centers are relatively new, many have either no collective bargaining institutions or, in the case of Germany, only recently established works councils—making it feasible to examine variation in these institutional arrangements.
The analysis focuses on three questions. First, do national and collective bargaining institutions influence the adoption of high-involvement management practices? I use the term “high-involvement management” to describe management practices that engender employee discretion and collaboration and that rely on trust rather than on intensive monitoring and control. Second, I ask whether national and collective bargaining institutions and high- involvement management practices are associated with lower voluntary employee turnover. Third, I consider whether high-involvement management mediates the relationship between national and collective bargaining institutions and employee turnover. That is, do these institutions affect turnover directly or only indirectly through their effects on work organization and performance monitoring? The study answers these questions through a “mixed-method” analysis, drawing on data from extensive qualitative field research as well as identical establishment-level surveys of 472 U.S. and 154 German call centers.