Go to the Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies and find at least one article, which deals with ethical issues that have strategic significance to companies. We know that you have been introduced to ethical issues in your prior MBA courses. The emphasis here is on strategic decisions that companies make and their ethical implications. You should briefly summarize and submit EJBO Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies Vol. 18, No. 1 (2013) Electronic Performance Monitoring in Call Centers: An Ethical Decision Model David Perkins Abstract Ever since it emerged on a widespread basis in the 1990s, electronic performance monitoring of employees has received significant scrutiny in the literature. Call centers have been the focus of many of these studies. This particular study addresses the issue of electronic performance monitoring in call centers from an ethical perspective. The following ethical dilemma is offered: "Is it ethical for a call center manager to evaluate the performance of a call center employee using electronic performance monitoring data gathered on the employee?" Using utilitarian, Kantian, virtue, and covenantal ethical theories, the study proposes an ethical decision model and subsequently applies the model in an attempt to resolve the ethical dilemma. Recommendations for future research are then provided. Key words Electronic Performance Monitoring, Call Centers, Virtue Ethics, Covenantal Ethics, Interpersonal Trust 1. Introduction The efficiency characteristics of classi- cal management theory, which emerged in the early twentieth century primarily under the umbrella of “scientific management”, addressed quantitative aspects of organizational effectiveness. Although Fredrick Taylor’s “scientific management”, which emphasized the importance of work methods to enhance worker productivity by breaking down work into individual tasks, may seem archaic today, it is often considered foundational to the study of organizational efficiency (Wren, 2004). Indeed, managers in today’s twentyfirst century call center seem to have embraced the principles of Taylor’s “scientific management” in order to achieve optimal productivity in their call center employees (Bain et al., 2002). A call center consists of both technological and human resources that provide the delivery of services over the telephone (Koole and Mandelbaum, 2002). Electronic performance monitoring (EPM) is one approach that has been widely used in call centers to improve employee productivity (Wells et al. 2007). In the late 1980s, the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment studied electronic performance monitoring and surmised that it consisted of the electronic collection, storage, analysis and reporting of information about employees’ productive activities (OTA, 1987). Research suggests that although EPM can improve organizational productivity in call centers (Alder, 1998); however, EPM can also have detrimental effects on employee well-being (Holman, 2002). Studies have attempted to address the contrasting perspectives of call center managers and employees. Most call center studies appear to have focused on the unfavorable impacts upon monitored employees (Milner et al. 2007; Barnes, 2004; Holman, 2003; Holman, 2002; Hawk, 1994). Alder (1998) approaches the issue from an ethical perspective, providing practical recommendations for call center managers. Ambrose and Alder (2000) propose a framework for evaluating EPM. Dorval (2004) addresses the issue from a legal perspective. Other call center research focuses on specific case studies (George, 2001; Westin, 1992). McNall and Roch (2009) investigate the issue within the framework of a social exchange model. This study extends the work of Alder (1998) and addresses the issue from an ethical perspective with specific application of ethical theories to resolve the contrasting perspectives of call center managers and call center employees as pertaining to EPM. Specifically by invoking ethical theories, this paper defines a specific ethical dilemma related to EPM in call centers, proposes an ethical decision model, and then applies the ethical dilemma to the ethical decision model. Recommendations for further research are then offered. It should be noted that since the use of EPM in call centers is widespread in the United States (Wells et al. 2007) and U.S. legal precedent appears to cede to a company’s right to improve profitability by using EPM (U.S. Supreme Court, 2010; Rustad and Paulson, 2004-2005; Corbett, 2003), this study is specifically directed to call centers in the United States. 2. Electronic Performance Monitoring Electronic performance monitoring (EPM) is prevalent in the United States. Research within the past twenty-five years has shown a continual increase in EPM. As of 1987, approximately six million U.S. workers had all or part of their work performance evaluated by data derived from EPM (OTA, 1987). This number jumped to ten million in 1994 (Hawk, 1994) and rose to twentyseven million by the end of 1999 (Miller, 2003). A 2001 survey by the American Management Association revealed that at least two-thirds of major U.S. firms engaged in EPM, a figure doubling from only five years prior (Corbett, 2003) and encompassing over a quarter of the U.S. workforce (Moorman and Wells, 2003). Other recent studies have indicated that 76% of organizations monitor worker web site activities, 50% review worker computer files, and 36% track employee keystroke activities (Wells et al. 2007). 4 http://ejbo.jyu.fi/ EJBO Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies Vol. 18, No. 1 (2013) More recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of workplace monitoring practices of a city government in a case where an employee was using a government issued pager for sending personal use text messages (U.S. Supreme Court, 2010). 3. Call Centers and Electronic Performance Monitoring A typical call center has been in existence for approximately eight years and employs approximately forty-nine workers. A majority of call centers serve mass market customers. Almost half of all call centers provide customer service, most primarily handling inbound calls (Holman et al. 2007). A 2001 study revealed that EPM is prevalent in call centers (ICMI, 2002). Approximately 93% of the call centers performed some form of EPM on their employees in 2001, a 5% increase from two years prior. Twenty-five percent indicated monitoring of individual employee phone calls ten or more times per month. Other types of monitoring (email, faxes and web text-chat sessions) were also surveyed. Email monitoring was the most common in internet/telecom (52%), catalog/retail (52%), and financial services (43%) call centers. Call centers also indicated that measuring employee performance (77%) and identifying additional training needs (72%) were the most important reasons for using EPM (ICMI, 2002). Holman et al.’s (2007) survey indicates that EPM is more prevalent in indus- trialized countries. NAQC (2010) points out that call center monitoring consists of a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures. 4. Statement of the Ethical Dilemma Call center management goals related to EPM are directed towards employee performance. EPM can allow managers to track quantitative data such as an employee’s average call time, the time spent taking calls, the type of calls taken (Holman, 2002), calls per hour, and time between calls (Bain et al. 2002). Secondly, managers can listen to employee conversations with or without their knowledge to gather less quantifiable data (Holman, 2002). Specific measures here can include a detailed analysis of the call content and how successfully the employee relates to customers (Bain et al. 2002). Thus, management goals of EPM help to ensure that employees meet prescribed quantitative metrics along with being friendly and persuasive towards their customers (Holman, 2002). Despite the benefits EPM offers to call center managers, research suggests that EPM can have detrimental effects on employee well-being. Factors regarding EPM’s impact on employee well-being include how the monitoring is administered (Moorman and Wells, 2003) or how captured data is used for performance evaluations (Hawk, 1994). If EPM is perceived to be excessive, employees may feel less satisfied (Alder, 1998; Miller, 2003), feel more depressed, become less active, feel more anxiety (Holman, 2002), and experience greater loss of personal control (Stanton and Barnes-Farrell, 1996). Furthermore, call centers focused on mass consumer markets are likely to have lower profit margins, and therefore take a cost-focused approach to service. This suggests that they are likely to adopt more standardized work practices and performance monitoring, invest less in skills and training, and offer lower pay (Holman et al. 2007). Thus, EPM in call centers can give rise to tensions between management and employees. The tensions center on manage- ment goals of employee performance vs. employees’ sense of personal well-being. This brings up an interesting dichotomy. An EPM system that managers claim can increase employee performance could be the same system that may be perceived as unfair by the employee and thus actually contribute to reduced employee performance. Therefore if an EPM system contributes negatively to individual employee performance in a call center, then there could be ethical implications in using data from that same system to evaluate the performance of the employee. Thus the following ethical dilemma is offered: "Is it ethical for a call center manager to evaluate the performance of a call center employee using electronic performance monitoring data gathered on the employee?" 5. Ethical Decision Model to Resolve the Ethical Dilemma Given the offered ethical dilemma, several aspects of ethical theory, i.e., utilitarian, Kantian, virtue, and covenantal, are invoked to provide guidance for resolving the ethical dilemma. The proposed ethical decision model is shown in Figure 1. 5.1 Utilitarian and Kantian Considerations The first steps in the ethical decision model include parallel tracks of utilitarian and Kantian considerations related to the ethical dilemma. From the manager’s perspective, the model ap- plies “act” utilitarianism theory (steps 1 through 5 in Figure 1) in that an act is morally permissible if the consequences of the act produce the greatest amount of benefit for the most persons affected by the act (Tavani, 2007). Specifically, the ethical decision model addresses the following from the perspective of the manager: benefits vs. costs, (Velasquez, 2012), harms imposed, rights exercised, and rights denied (Hosmer, 2010). Managerial goals of achieving the best possible performance levels from the employee form the basis of the utilitarian considerations in this part of the ethical decision model. Kantian considerations follow the same process as the utilitarian track, except the employee’s perspective is considered (steps 6 through 10 in Figure 1). The second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative is applied in that individuals have dignity and should not be treated merely as tools or machines “ (Velasquez, 2012) and that employees are valued beyond tools and (Arnold et al, 2012). Specifically, the ethical decision model considers the duties to the individual, harms imposed on the individual, rights exercised by the individual, and rights denied to the individual (Hosmer, 2010). Respect for and dignity of the employee form the basis of the Kantian considerations in this part of the ethical decision model. 5.2 Effectiveness vs. Acceptability of Electronic Performance Monitoring In the ethical decision model (Figure 1), utilitarian concerns and Kantian concerns can be conflicting, since aspects of “act” utilitarian theory are concerned with actions that bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people, while the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative is concerned with duties owed to individuals (Hosmer, 2010). The quest for the call center manager to gain more and more EPM information could potentially place increased burdens upon the call center employee (Alder, 1998). Therefore, the model requires provisions to address this potential dichotomy by assessing the “act utilitarian” effectiveness of EPM (the manager perspective) vs. “Kantian (Second categorical imperative)” acceptability of the EPM actions (the employee perspective) (Godfrey, 2000), as shown in steps 10 through 12 in Figure 1. If both the manager and employee agree 5 http://ejbo.jyu.fi/ EJBO Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies Vol. 18, No. 1 (2013) Figure 1 – Ethical Decision Model that EPM is both effective and acceptable, respectively, then the question of employee trust in the manager is addressed (step 15 in Figure 1). If either the manager or the employee does not believe that EPM is effective or acceptable, respectively, then virtue-based ethics from a managerial perspective is applied (step 13 in Figure 1). 5.3 Managerial Virtue Virtue theory suggests that the foundation of morality is based on one’s character (Arjoon, 2000) and that one who is virtuous acts honorably (Hosmer, 2010). One is virtuous if he/she practices good moral habits (Cavanagh and Bandsuch, 2002) and demonstrates empathy, integrity, and respect (Chun, 2005; Shanahan and Hyman, 2003). Virtue ethics “takes the concept of character … to be central to the idea of being a good person in business (Solomon, 2003: 44). Moreover, an action is morally right if the acting agent (e.g., a call center manager) personifies a morally virtuous character (Velasquez, 2012). It is within this context that the “act utilitarian” and “Kantian (2nd categorical imperative)” contradictions related to the ethical dilemma start to be addressed within the ethical decision model (step 13 in Figure 1). To attain the benefits of a mutually reciprocal relationship, someone must make the first move; managers are in the best position to initiate (Whitener et al. 1998). Thus in applying virtue ethics, the model places direct responsibility upon the protagonist (the call center manager) in that if the manager practices virtuous behavior in applying EPM, such behavior will encourage monitored call center employees toward more favorable performance behaviors (Herman, 1997). Indeed, virtue is one of the most admirable traits of a manager (Whetstone, 2003). By applying virtue ethics, the call center manager could “con- ceive new possibilities in an attempt to reframe the problem and avoid an unbearable situation that calls for arbitrary decisions” (Geva, 2000: 790). Thus, the ethical decision model addresses the ethical dilemma from the virtue-based managerial perspective in that call center management is called upon to identify new options for moral action (Geva, 2000). 5.4 Covenantal Ethics In the manager-employee relationship, each side can encounter contingencies (i.e., uncontrollable actions of the other party) that result in vulnerabilities to the other party (Herman, 1997). In the ethical decision model, unresolved harms and rights denied take the form of contingencies as they flow out of the “act utilitarian” and “Kantian (Second categorical imperative)” portions of the model. These contingencies lead to vulnerabilities on the other side. To resolve these contingencies, the ethical decision model requires the manager to take the first step and attempt to address the issues from a virtue-based perspective. 6 http://ejbo.jyu.fi/ EJBO Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies Vol. 18, No. 1 (2013) Virtuous management actions then flow into a more two-sided, cooperative approach towards resolving the ethical dilemma through covenantal ethics (Step 14 in Figure 1). Virtue-based manager behaviors lead to management commitments to the employee. These actions can be followed by subsequent employee commitments to management as shown in Step 14 in Figure 1. This may result in a specialized manifestation of a relational contract, i.e., a covenantal relationship (Barnett and Schubert, 2002) which is based on the mutual commitment to the welfare of both parties and a shared set of values (Van Dyne et al. 1994). A covenantal relationship is meant to protect the uniqueness of respective parties (Pava, 2001), show respect and concern for each other (Childs, 1995), provide a framework for collective decision-making (Stueart and Wilbanks, 1974), and strive for a healthy working relationship (Barnett and Schubert, 2002). A covenantal relationship can also provide a mediating role for building loyalty (Van Dyne et al. 1994). In addition, a covenantal relationship between a manager and an employee can foster employee behaviors that will have lasting benefits to the organization (Barnett and Schubert, 2002). Thus in the ethical decision model, covenantal ethics attempts to subjugate any contingencies and vulnerabilities in the manager-employee relationship as pertaining to EPM. Covenantal ethics then requires accepting rather than vanquishing contingency elements in the relationship and shouldering the burdens of cooperation (Herman, 1997). In the ethical decision model, Herman’s (1997) conceptualization of covenantal ethics is thus applied: (1) Commitments from the call center manager to the employee are identified; (2) Commitments (i.e., responses) from the call center employee are identified. Furthermore, an inherent quality of a covenantal relationship is that “covenantal partners can disagree about the particulars without threatening the existence of the relationship” (Van Dyne et al. 1994: 768). This has direct implications for the ethical decision model in that the manager and the employee can disagree about the specifics of EPM and yet not adversely threaten their working relationship. The ethical decision model proposes that covenantal ethics provides the best means for the manager and the employee to cooperate with each other in a respectful way (Pava, 2001) in order to address any contingencies and vulnerabilities arising from EPM. In addition, from an organizational perspective, developing a covenantal relationship with employees can benefit the overall functioning of an organization (Barnett and Schubert, 2002), including a call-center organization. 5.5 Employee Trust in Management For the final step of this phase of the ethical decision model to be fulfilled and flowing from the covenantal portion of the ethical decision model, employee trust is needed when EPM is used in the performance appraisal process (Childs, 1995) (step 15 in Figure 1). The ethical decision model presumes that employee trust in management is a key goal in the presence of an EPM system, since it demonstrates a commitment to building relationships of trust (Van Dyne et al. 1994). Employees can have distinct levels of trust in people at different levels of manage- ment within the same organization (Perry and Mankin, 2007). As discussed by Burke et al (2007), factors related to trust in organizational leaders include managerial competence (Mishra, 1996), support (Dirks and Ferrin, 2002); benevolence (Burke et al. 2007), and reliability (Mishra, 1996). Another factor in- cludes the ability to provide compelling organizational direc- tion (Hackman, 2002). Yet with respect to EPM, trust in one’s immediate manager is even more critical, since the direct manager will have personal interaction with the employee as pertaining to EPM results. Historical studies have conceptualized trust in one’s immediate manager as interpersonal trust, primarily in terms of the perceived character of the manager (Wheeless and Grotz, 1977), reliable behavior of the manager (Rotter, 1980; Zaheer et al. 1998) as related to receiving rewards (Rempel et al. 1985), how safe the employee feels with respect to the manager (Wheeless and Grotz, 1977), and how dependable the manager is (Rempel et al. 1985). Interpersonal trust contextualized as a form of vulnerability has also been addressed in early literature.