Feature

The hidden cost of outsourcing

Outsourcing is reshaping our economy, but it has a big downside: It relies on workers who act “like cogs in a machine.”

Steven PearlsteinThe Washington Post 

Outsourcing is reshaping our economy, said Steven Pearlstein, but it has a big downside: It relies on workers who act “like cogs in a machine.” Many companies and government agencies are now saving vast sums by hiring outside firms to answer customer calls, provide security, or perform other basic tasks. But those lower costs come only because contractors hire “relatively low-skilled, low-paid workers” and prohibit them from exercising their own discretion. “Their only job is to follow rules” and “stick to the script.” That’s why the person at the airline call center in Bangalore can’t fix your travel snafu, and why customer-service representatives at utilities and credit-card companies can’t deal with nuanced problems, and repeat the same rote responses. It’s also why a young Florida lifeguard was recently fired by a private company because he left his post to help rescue a swimmer outside his jurisdiction. His story is a reminder that while outsourcing saves money, if we want workers who exercise judgment and discretion, we’ll have to go back to hiring them ourselves—and paying them twice as much.

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