Collaboration, Co-operation or Collusion? Contrasting Employee Responses to Managerial Control in Three Call Centres


  • Daniel Nyberg is at the University of Sydney. Graham Sewell is at the University of Melbourne.


This article draws on ethnographic studies of three call centres in a single, medium-sized insurance company to explore how employees responded differently to similar techniques of managerial control. Considering recent discussions of compromise in the workplace, we identify a response to control that sits between implacable resistance and supine acquiescence. We style this collusion and distinguish it from other states of compromise, such as collaboration and co-operation. Drawing on the work of Edwards et al., we argue that a dynamic and politically sophisticated collusive compromise can exist between parties whose control and developmental concerns are in conflict. From this position, we extend existing theories of compromise: (a) to accommodate different permutations of control and developmental concerns; and (b) to predict when collaboration, co-operation and collusion are likely to occur under ostensibly similar conditions of managerial control.