The effects of automated technology on the experience of agency at work

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Bufton, Gina
Weiss, Howard M.
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The experience of agency, defined as “the experience of being in control both of one’s actions and, through them, of events in the external world” (Haggard & Tsakiris, 2009), is fundamental to a person-centric definition of work as “productive, agentic activity” (Weiss, 2014). The assessment of the momentary experience of agency, rather than of more generalized judgments of control within one’s work, allows for a more discrete analysis of the contexts within which experiences of control at work may be altered. Of interest to the current study is the context of automated technology. Automation was expected to have a negative effect on experiences of agency, such that individuals whose work was mediated by automated technology would have lower judgments of momentary control, effort, and responsibility than those individuals whose work was not mediated by technology. This hypothesis was tested by examining two groups of 177 package car drivers from United Parcel Service (UPS): one group that used an automated technology, ORION, and one group that did not. As predicted, an independent samples t-test revealed that non-ORION participants reported significantly higher levels of momentary control than participants who used ORION. Additional analyses showed that attitudes towards technology, as represented by affinity for technology and ORION acceptance, differentially predicted levels of each agency facet: control, effort, and responsibility. Moreover, significant relationships were found between the agency facets, job autonomy, and perceptions of time. Limitations of the current study, as well as future research directions, are discussed.
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