Measuring and managing creative labour: Value struggles and billable hours in the creative industries

Frederick Harry Pitts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Creative labour is often characterised as hard to measure and scientifically manage. As ‘immaterial labour’, its time breaches the working day’s boundaries and produces uncertain outputs. These conditions, claim postoperaists, precipitate a ‘crisis of measurability’. Drawing on interviews with workers at graphic, brand and strategic design agencies in the UK and the Netherlands, this article disputes claims creative labour eludes quantification. It deploys Marxian value theory to demonstrate that the billable hours system of pricing and allocating work in creative agencies establishes ‘fictitious norms of timing’ reminiscent of the Taylorist factory that mediate the labour-process with reference to standards of socially-necessary labour-time set in the market. Rebureaucratising and socialising creative labour, billable hours help creative agencies face overcome measurability as a problem, not a crisis. The article first surveys postoperaist claims of a measurability crisis through a reading of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Assembly, charting its application to ‘immaterial labour’ in the creative industries. Considering the relevance of traditional forms of industrial organisation like scientific management to creative labour, the article then proposes an alternative perspective based on the concept of socially-necessary labour-time. The case study demonstrates how creative agencies overcome the problem of measure through billable hours and the processes of formalisation and standardisation they imply, including timesheets and time-tracking technologies. The article concludes with a discussion of the possible forms of resistance the conditions uncovered in the case study might incubate, distinguishing between organizing approaches that make claims on value and those that seek to break it.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Early online date17 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Dec 2020

Structured keywords

  • Cultural Work
  • Digital Societies
  • Perspectives on Work
  • MGMT Work Organisation and Public Policy
  • MGMT theme Work Futures


  • Creative Labour
  • Creative Industries
  • Measurement
  • Value
  • Time
  • Marx


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