The gig economy tends to divide opinion quite roundly, with supporters saying it offers a tremendous level of flexibility and opportunity, whilst its detractors suggesting it offers a race to the bottom coupled with intense uncertainty.
As the discussion, and indeed the industry, evolves, the clamor for regulation is growing. Whilst the voices of the platforms are reasonably well known, what is less well known is the opinion of the workers themselves.
Of course, this is in large part due to the disparate nature of the industry, but a recent study has attempted to tap into the mind of the gig worker.
Into the Mind of a Gig Economy Worker
The study placed particular focus on the various micro-task platforms, such as Mechanical Turk, where small tasks are completed for very small financial reward.
The authors attempted to understand what workers on platforms such as this got out of their work. Their values were deconstructed along nine core areas:
- Making an impact
A Mixed Picture
As you can perhaps imagine, there is a mixture of empowerment and marginalization in terms of how people are paid, the kind of tasks they perform and the way they’re governed.
For instance, workers felt empowered when the platform offered a large degree of choice over where and when they could work, but a greater sense of marginalization emerged when such freedoms were restricted.
This empowerment manifested itself in a variety of ways, including the meaning they got from the work, the feeling of competence the work gave them and its social impact.
Where Things Go Wrong
The study revealed that marginalization tends to occur in one of four ways:
- Economic marginalization, whereby workers feel exploited.
- Institutional marginalization, whereby workers feel generally powerless on the platform.
- Technical marginalization, whereby workers feel constrained by the platform.
- Competence marginalization, whereby workers feel disengaged and deskilled by mind numbing tasks.
Interestingly, economic exploitation was remarkably common, and considerably more so than the other three forms.
All of which suggests that the platform providers themselves aren’t going to be too bothered whether workers are fulfilled or not, just so long as they turn up and do the work.
It would be interesting to explore whether these kind of ‘disbenefits’ are also observed in crowdsourcing platforms that attempt to provide a slightly more equitable exchange, both in terms of the meaning of the work and the remuneration provided to participants.
By focusing on Mechanical Turk however, I do wonder whether they’re prescribing a degree of ethics that was never really designed into the platform.