Discretion, Control, and Professional Careers with Outsourcing Companies

By Zalewski, Jacqueline M | Sociological Viewpoints, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Discretion, Control, and Professional Careers with Outsourcing Companies


Zalewski, Jacqueline M, Sociological Viewpoints


ABSTRACT

This research examines the growing practice of on-site business process outsourcing and compares its effects on professional work in information technologies and human resources. Data from this study provides further evidence of mixed outcomes with outsourcing and challenges the industry's claim that it revitalizes professional careers. While information technologists find professional growth opportunities in jobs with outsourcing companies, human resource professionals usually do not. Additionally, jobs with outsourcing companies have other significant drawbacks for professional careers. Outsourcing constrains professionals' application of discretion and control in their everyday work because buyers and sellers in outsourcing deals use contracts and governance to offset the transaction costs endemic in market relationships. Outsourced professionals also experience significant increases in the amount of work and time they are expected to spend at the office. Moreover logistical barriers to collegiality, networking, and the tenuous nature of contracts present significant challenges for career growth with outsourcing companies.

There is another wave in outsourcing that lacks media coverage and is lightly sketched in empirical studies: professional work and related jobs that are outsourced yet remain within the office walls of 'core companies' (customers to an outsourcing deal). This type of outsourcing has affected significantly larger numbers of American people through forced employment changes and job loss than has its counterpart offshoring (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2004). We know little about how it affects professional work and organizations. Yet the need for more information is imperative given its growing use by core companies, the industry's growth rate, and the increased likelihood that more jobs will be lost or be susceptible to offshoring. Gaining a better understanding about how outsourcing affects professional work is a matter of urgency because of the proven negative effects of deskilling, greater contingencies, and job losses that accompany workplace restructuring measures (e.g., Braverman 1972; Edwards 1979; and Bluestone and Harrison 1982).

This qualitative study describes outsourcing's effects on professional discretion, control, and careers: the features most often used to distinguish work in the professions from occupations (Burris 1998; Derber 1983; Gallie et.al. 1998; Whalley 1986). This study uses information technologists and human resource professionals as comparison groups to show that outsourcing's effects are mixed but the general findings are suggestive. In information technologies, varied work across business sectors gives professionals more opportunities to learn new knowledge and expand skill sets compared with the work that human resource professionals do at outsourcing companies. Yet information technologists are more likely to work at the physical location of core companies, and this presents a significant drawback to professional careers with 'business service specialists' (outsourcing provider companies). Outsourced professionals also lose considerable discretion and control over their work because it is now being contracted out-it is being sold over a market-and separate employers must protect their proprietary interests. Moreover, the speed up of work is usually characteristic of jobs with business service specialists.

Business Process Outsourcing

The business community officially refers to this growing practice as "business process outsourcing," and it is projected to affect more and more occupational groups and professional workers. Business process outsourcing now has its legions of analysts and supporters, firms like Gartner (2005), Forrester, the Outsourcing Institute, and TPI, who define it as,

The delegation of one or more IT-intensive business processes to an external provider that in turn owns, administers, and manages the processes based on defined and measurable performance metrics. …

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