Flexibility, Specialization and Individual Productivity: Evidence from Call Center Data

44 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2017

See all articles by Guido Friebel

Guido Friebel

Goethe University Frankfurt; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Levent Yilmaz

University of Innsbruck; Goethe University Frankfurt

Date Written: December 15, 2016

Abstract

Bundling tasks into jobs is an essential element of organizational design. We here examine whether workers should be assigned broader or narrower sets of tasks, i.e. should job design be “flexible” or “specialized”. We investigate the individual productivity effects of flexibility using a unique data set from a call center in Germany with daily performance data of 477 agents over a period of 19 months. At different times in their career, agents acquire new skills enabling them to carry out additional tasks that are related to different consumer types, different types of services, or activities (for instance, sales versus provision of information). Individual productivity is measured in the duration of calls (shorter calls being better) and the sales conversion rate. We show that flexibility (i) decreases individual productivity, both in a statistical and economic sense, but (ii) increases the capacity utilization rates of agents. To our knowledge, the paper is the first to show the trade-off associated with flexibility, which goes back to Adam Smith’s reflections on the gains of specialization, and how the extent of the market constrains the scope for it. We also investigate likely channels and show that switching costs are the most likely cause for the drop in individual productivity.

Keywords: Job design, flexibility, specialization, individual performance

JEL Classification: J23, J24, M50

Suggested Citation

Friebel, Guido and Yilmaz, Levent, Flexibility, Specialization and Individual Productivity: Evidence from Call Center Data (December 15, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2916042 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2916042

Guido Friebel

Goethe University Frankfurt ( email )

Grüneburgplatz 1
Frankfurt am Main, 60323
Germany

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Levent Yilmaz (Contact Author)

University of Innsbruck ( email )

Universitätsstraße 15
Innsbruck, Innsbruck 6020
Austria

Goethe University Frankfurt ( email )

Grüneburgplatz 1
Frankfurt am Main, 60323
Germany

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