The experience of technology at work: An experiential model of automation and agency in the workplace
Bufton, Gina Marie
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There has been much attention paid to the macroeconomic implications of increased automation in the workforce, yet the psychological impact to affected workers has been largely ignored. To address this research gap, the purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between automation, operationalized as a set of generalizable experiential features, and the experience of agency at work, operationalized as momentary feelings of control within performance episodes. The study also examined trait-level predictors of experiential features of automation and proximal well-being outcomes in relation to experiences of agency. The study sample consisted of 81 full-time workers who used a variety of automated business software (e.g., Salesforce, PeopleSoft, QuickBooks) in their daily work tasks. In line with expectations, I found that experiential features of automation, including perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness, perceived reliability, and experience/skill, were positively related to experiences of agency, although I did not find support for the expected negative relationship between perceived level of automation and agency. However, there was a significant interaction effect between perceived level of automation and task difficulty on agency, such that the relationship between perceived level of automation and agency was positive under high task difficulty and negative under low task difficulty. Although the hypotheses for the trait-level predictors of the experiential features of automation were largely unsupported, I found positive relationships between the experience of agency and feelings of authenticity and work engagement. Taken together, these findings suggest that there are shared experiential features of automated technologies that can impact workers’ experiences of control in their jobs, and that momentary experiences of control (i.e., agency) are related to meaningful well-being outcomes at work. The study’s limitations and suggested future research directions are discussed.