This chapter determines how the roles of clerical workers are changing as organisations aim for greater flexibility, and contrasts the effects of IT for job enrichment and job specialisation. It summarises the views of focus group members on what they see as the main changes occurring in clerical work overall. It focuses on three main trends towards: skill and status differentiation; customer-based processes; and team work. It relates this analysis to the retail financial services sector and provides case histories of typical examples.
As described in Chapter 10, there is a continuing reduction of the clerical workforce, ranging from relatively small reductions in some sectors, such as building societies, to major reductions of over 40 per cent in other sectors, such as general insurance. The introduction of IT has cut out numerous routine, paper-based activities, enabling the remaining clerical workers to accomplish much more and to concentrate on other activities such as customer service.
The liberal view is that IT is neutral and can be used either for job enrichment or to increase job specialisation. It is very much a managerial decision which route is taken. Managers in financial services companies have tended to opt for functional specialisation with, for example, large numbers of staff employed as keyboard operators whose sole task has been to input data for payment based on number of words keyed, speed and accuracy. This approach has led to the creation of ‘white-collar factories’ as seen at the Bank of Scotland’s VISA Centre in Dunfermline (see Fincham et al. (1994) ‘Expertise and Innovation’, Case 7:46-7).
The VISA Centre was set up along factory lines with a combination of functional specialisation and with strict management control systems in operation. The labour force consists of a large number of part-time women doing unskilled work and a small number of permanent managers with career jobs and responsibility for planning, coordinating and managing the work. The work of the clerical staff is heavily monitored with, for example, supervisors being alerted if an incoming call lasts longer than 30 seconds. The clerical workers have very little autonomy or task variety, and they are subject