Category Archives: Research

6 challenges of being a gig worker during the COVID-19 pandemic

Food delivery couriers congregate in Turin, Italy. (Shutterstock)

Erin Reid, McMaster University; Brianna Barker Caza, University of North Carolina – Greensboro; Steve Granger, University of Calgary, and Susan Ashford, University of Michigan

The gig economy, once associated mainly with musicians and artists, is stretching into more and more areas of the workforce. With the advent of tech platforms such as Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit, many of us have come to rely on gig workers to take us places, rent us rooms or take care of small tasks. Both the number and the type of workers employed in the gig economy has grown.

Yet these are only the most visible segments of the gig labour market. A number of specialist platforms focused on knowledge economy services have emerged, such as Kolabtree, which connects users to independent scientists, and Eden McCallum, a company which serves clients with teams of independent management consultants. https://www.youtube.com/embed/yPp6Q90paIE?wmode=transparent&start=0 CBC’s The National looks at a platform that connects workers and customers.

Gig workers’ day-to-day lives are fundamentally different from people with traditional employment in organizations who enjoy more predictable wages, supportive managers and steady relationships. As scholars of work, psychology and organizations, we have focused our recent research on the challenges these workers face and the personal resources they can draw upon to deal with them.

6 challenges of being a gig worker

Drawing on our own research and studies by other researchers, we identified six key challenges for these workers that are rooted in the structure of gig work itself:

• Remaining financially viable without a predictable salary.

• Organizing the logistics of work without the support of the administrative infrastructure (e.g., accounting, marketing).

• Crafting a clear work identity without the roles and communities that anchor identities in organizations.

• Navigating an uncertain career path and forecasting one’s future work without the more predictable career options offered by companies and industries.

• Coping with the heightened emotional turbulence occasioned by highs and lows of working independently.

• Maintaining work relationships without a clear and stable set of regular colleagues.

We developed The Gig Work Challenges Inventory (GWCI) to measure these challenges. We developed and validated 18 questions through a series of surveys conducted with many different types of gig workers including rideshare drivers, freelance editors, creative workers, consultants, designers and online digital piece-workers.

Our ongoing research is devoted to understanding what makes these challenges more or less salient to workers, as well as how they can cope with them. Our measure captures the experiences of workers around the world, including a global sample of scientists.

A smiling woman sits behind a laptop.
Internet and communications technologies now mean that gig workers compete globally for work. (Shutterstock)

Different experiences

Gig workers are not all alike and their experiences of these challenges are not all the same. They have different skills, do different kinds of work and find their gigs in different ways. Our studies suggest that these differences importantly shaped workers’ experiences of the six core challenges of gig work in the following ways:

• Professional status matters: Comparing professionals (e.g. editors, consultants) to non-professionals (e.g. delivery drivers), we find that non-professionals report generally higher levels of all six challenges than do the professionals.

• Income matters: Not surprisingly, a gig worker’s income impacts their experience of challenges — lower income gig workers report higher levels of all six challenges than do higher income workers.

• How gig workers find work matters: Workers who find their gigs through platforms like Upwork tended to report greater emotional and career path challenges than did those who found their work through other means, such as through their existing social networks.

Resources for coping

A document showing an inventory of gig work challenges
The survey tool used to capture challenges faced by gig workers. (Reid, Caza, Granger and Ashford), Author provided

Gig workers’ experiences of these challenges have shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Surveys that we conducted with a sample of independent scientists before and during the pandemic reveal how this global disruption reduced the number of available work opportunities and amplified workers’ difficulties with fluctuating emotions, organizing day-to-day work and maintaining relationships.

However, our data also suggest some psychosocial resources that may help gig workers cope with layers of work and non-work challenges. Specifically, when gig workers felt that their work was meaningful and that they had emotional support in their social networks going into the pandemic, they reported higher levels of psychological resilience and well-being, and less loneliness, during the pandemic.

These results show how doing work that is meaningful and having strong relationships can help buffer the challenges of gig work, even as they become amplified during a pandemic.

We anticipate that our work will be useful to gig workers, organizers, practitioners, managers and scholars. We encourage workers themselves to use the inventory to evaluate their own work lives and consider where they need to invest in building resources to sustain themselves.

Protestors holding signs saying FIX THE GIG ECONOMY in pink letters on a white background
Gig economy protesters block a downtown street in Toronto, Ont. on May 1, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn )

Third-party platforms such as Kolabtree and Upwork as well as freelancer unions and other organizations might use this measure as a basis for creating supportive services and programs for their workers.

Last, we hope that researchers can use this inventory to continue to better understand gig workers’ lived experiences and generate new insights about the implications of this increasingly prominent way of working.

Erin Reid, Associate professor, Human Resources & Management, McMaster University; Brianna Barker Caza, Associate Professor of Management, University of North Carolina – Greensboro; Steve Granger, PhD Candidate, University of Calgary, and Susan Ashford, Michael and Susan Jandernoa Professor of Management and Organizations, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In Pressions — January 7th 2021

Fostering personal resilience is a vital goal of much occupational health psychology.

A recent study by Falon and colleagues in press at the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology approached this issue from the lens of self-reflection training.

The self-reflection model they rely on poses that resilience can be strengthened through a mixture of practices that promote the self-awareness, self-evalution, and self-development of one’s values, goals, coping strategies in the face of adversity.

A potential hurdle to this model the authors anticipate is the self-absorption paradox (Trapnell & Campbell, 1999), whereby dwelling on one’s self can improve the accuracy of self-knowledge while coming at a cost of psychological well-being — a phenomenon often exhibited by individuals who experience depression.

However, the authors emphasized that the self-reflection model involves constructing solutions, being curious, creating time-boundaries, and having a desire to learn from experience, as opposed to brooding on the stressors one experiences.

In their clustered-randomized controlled trial, the authors compared two groups as they went through stressful military training: an experimental self-reflection resilience training group and a control training group.

The self-reflection resilience training group engaged in weekly guided self-reflection journaling for 15 minutes each for 5 weeks, while the control group completed a communication skills seminar for 15 minutes each for 5 weeks.

Results indicated a clearer picture for depression and stress than anxiety: depression and stress were stable among the experiemental group in the short- and long-term (immediately following training and 3 months after training), whereas they increased across both for the control group; anxiety increased for the experiemental group in the short-term and increased for the control group in the long-term.

Importantly, the authors were able to show that self-reflection was indirectly related to less depression, anxiety, and stress in the long-term by decreasing the tendency to ruminate.

A key “in pression” from this study appears to be how individuals reflect on the stressors they experience and the approaches they take in dealing with or overcoming this adversity. This adds more evidence to the idea that it is important to frame adversity as an opportunity for growth and engaging in self-reflective journaling can be a useful way of doing this.

In Pression posts: brief summaries from one or multiple articles “In Press” at leading journals.

In Pressions — December 2nd 2020

Sleep has been in the blue-light filtered limelight of occupational health research over the last couple years given how much our society and culture has chronically understimated the negative consequences of putting off the ZZZs.

However, recent research has continued to add nuance to our understanding of when or how much sleep is good for our work (and vice versa).

Sayre and colleagues (2020) explored whether sleep is seen as a resource gain (improved well-being) or resource loss (less time) and appeared to find stronger evidence for the latter, with more sleep reducing percieved performance, and reduced perceived performance relating to more sleep – what they referred to as a loss spiral.

Another study ‘in press’ by Hur and colleagues (2020) contributes to this line of thought in that they found better performance was related to improved relaxation in the evening and improved positive affect the next morning.

Together, it appears that work performance can be an influential antecedent to a good night’s respite and according to another ‘in press’ article by Carleton and Barling (2020) on treatment for sleap apnea, experiencing a good quality sleep is rather important to reducing withdrawal behaviours which affect performance.

So key “in pressions”? Target improving sleep quality, which will help you stay focused at work so you can relax afterwards knowing you did a good job that day.

In Pression posts are an approach I’ll be trying out where I very briefly summarize key takeaways from one or multiple articles “In Press” at leading journals.

Project WIMH: Post #6

One of the arguments I’ve been working on in my proposal to explain the link between prior issues with mental health and subsequent work injuries is the role of cognitive resources (memory, attention, acuity, etc.).

The basic argument goes something like this: cognitive resources that are negatively impacted by mental health problems are the same resources that reduce the likelihood of experiencing a work injury.

While I was working through papers on the meta-analysis, I came across one that brought this idea to the forefront.

Arlinghaus and colleagues (2012) assessed the intermediary role of fatigue as a result of inadequate sleep in predicting work injuries. One of the core predictive variables of inadequate sleep that they assessed was psychological distress.

They find that psychological distress was not only directly related to an increased chance of experiencing a serious work injury, but that it was also indirectly related to experiencing a serious work injury through obtaining less sleep.

The implication of this is that the effect of mental health on cognitive resources is also complex, potentially reducing a persons day-to-day acuity and functioning by influencing other factors such as the amount of sleep they get the night before.

References

Arlinghaus, A., Lombardi, D. A., Willetts, J. L., Folkard, S., & Christiani, D. C. (2012). A structural equation modeling approach to fatigue-related risk factors for occupational injury. Am J Epidemiol, 176(7), 597-607. doi:10.1093/aje/kws219

Bicycle helmets

Do they matter?

The answer is an overwhelming yes.

Here are just a few numbers from a meta-analysis (i.e., a summary of all existing quantitative research) by Oliver & Creighton (2017) assessing the effectiveness of bicycle helmets in crashes and falls:

51% less likely to experience a head injury
69% less likely to experience a serious head injury
33% less likely to experience a facial injury
And 65% less likely to experience a fatal injury

To boot, other meta-analyses find relatively similar results (Attewell et al., 2001; Elvik, 2011; Høye, 2018).

So yes, bicycle helmets matter.

But recent innovations in bicycle helmet tech have improved their effectiveness a considerable amount.

Here I’m talking about WAVECEL and MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System).

While these two helmet technologies work in slightly different ways, they essentially soften the impact on the head by separating the helmet and your head from the initial shock.

With a traditional helmet, there is essentially a plastic and foam barrier between your head and what it hits, but your head rotates with the helmet at the same speed (and it’s this initial rotation and acceleration that leads to most head injuries, such as concussions and traumatic brain injuries).

With MIPS and WAVECEL, there is within the helmet a moving liner or collapsible structure, respectively, that decreases this rotation, and ultimately the chance of head injuries (Bliven et al., 2019).

So if you’re in the market for a helmet, I would highly recommend looking out for either MIPS or WAVECEL, with MIPS helmets tending to come in at slightly lower costs because the tech has been around for quite a bit longer.

If you’d like more information about bicycle helmet testing, check out the website for Virginia Tech’s helmet testing lab. They run comprehensive third-party testing on helmets for various sports, including cycling.

References

Attewell, R. G., Glase, K., & McFadden, M. (2001). Bicycle helmet efficacy: a meta-analysis. Accident Analysis & Prevention33(3), 345-352.Chicago

Bliven, E., Rouhier, A., Tsai, S., Willinger, R., Bourdet, N., Deck, C., … & Bottlang, M. (2019). Evaluation of a novel bicycle helmet concept in oblique impact testing. Accident Analysis & Prevention124, 58-65.

Elvik, R. (2011). Publication bias and time-trend bias in meta-analysis of bicycle helmet efficacy: a re-analysis of Attewell, Glase and McFadden, 2001. Accident Analysis & Prevention43(3), 1245-1251.

Høye, A. (2018). Bicycle helmets–To wear or not to wear? A meta-analyses of the effects of bicycle helmets on injuries. Accident Analysis & Prevention117, 85-97.

Olivier, J., & Creighton, P. (2017). Bicycle injuries and helmet use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Epidemiology46(1), 278-292.Chicago

Project WIMH: Post #5

To what extent could mental health explain the underreporting of work injuries?

A study by Zadow and colleagues (2017) examined whether emotional exhaustion, a core aspect of burnout and a common sign of mental health problems, predicted both reported and unreported injuries among hospital personnel.

They found that reported injuries were not statistically related to emotional exhaustion but unreported injuries were – and the difference between the correlational effect sizes (size of the standardized statistical relationship between injuries and emotional exhaustion) was fairly large (.11 to .30).

Too spent to go through the rigmarole of reporting injuries? Quite possibly.

References

Zadow, A. J., Dollard, M. F., McLinton, S. S., Lawrence, P., & Tuckey, M. R. (2017). Psychosocial safety climate, emotional exhaustion, and work injuries in healthcare workplaces. Stress Health. doi:10.1002/smi.2740

Project WIMH: Post #4

Almost done vetting the large folder of articles I pulled from the databases!

Came across an interesting paper by Simo Salminen and colleagues (2014) about whether stress captured by a single item (“Stress refers to a situation where a person feels tense, restless, nervous, or anxious, or is unable to sleep at night because his/her mind is troubled all the time. Do you feel that kind of stress these days?” p. 2) was associated with the risk of severe injury 8 years later.

Considering the paper was published, you can bet it does!

In fact, they found that individuals who rated their stress as high compared to those who rated it as low were roughly 42% more likely to experience a severe injury at the 8-year follow-up.

Oh, and this finding also controlled for age, gender, marital status, occupational status, education, and physical work environment.

However, greater clarity was gained when they broke down the overall sample by gender and occupation. Turns out that the association of this stress item with later severe injuries was only significant within males and individuals in blue-collar occupations (i.e., high stressed blue-collar males were more likely to experience a severe injury than their low stressed blue-collar male counterparts).

Goes to show that the bigger picture findings can sometimes mask what’s actually happening.

References

Salminen, S., Kouvonen, A., Koskinen, A., Joensuu, M., & Väänänen, A. (2014). Is a single item stress measure independently associated with subsequent severe injury: A prospective cohort study of 16,385 forest industry employees. BMC Public Health, 14(543), 1-7. 

Project WIHM: Post #3

The persistence of post-traumatic stress symptoms following an injury is pernicious.

Haagsma and colleagues (2010) followed up with a general population of patients 2 years after treatment for an injury.

Post-traumatic stress symptoms among these patients were negatively associated with almost all the functional and health-related quality of life measures in the study (e.g., problems with mobility, emotion, cognition, as well as considerably higher levels of pain, discomfort, anxiety & depression).

One take away from this study is the emphasis surrounding the treatment of physical AND psychological symptoms following an injury. If the psychological aspects of traumatic injuries are not rehabilitated in tandum with the physical aspects of injuries, there could be serious long-term consequences towards functioning and quality of life.

This is said in light of the study design limitations. Most importantly, the study does not allow one to be conclusive about the direction of the relationship between PTSD symptoms with functional and health-related quality of life (i.e., do PTSD symptoms lead to worse functioning/quality of life, the opposite, or is something else leading to both?). However, it does allow one to infer that individuals who continue to exhibit PTSD symptoms 2-years after an injury are far more likely to suffer from an overall lower quality of life.

References

Haagsma, J. A., Polinder, S., Olff, M., Toet, H., Bonsel, G. J., & van Beeck, E. F. (2012). Posttraumatic stress symptoms and health-related quality of life: A two year follow up study of injury treated at the emergency department. BMC Psychiatry, 12(1), 1-8. 

Project WIMH: Post #2

The article vetting process continues.

It can be hard to read through some of the research on this topic. Here is a quote from a qualitative study by Cacciarro & Kirsh (2006) on the mental health needs of injured workers:

“It’s just a domino effect. It’s affecting my children. My kids come home from school and I haven’t got dinner made because I haven’t got the energy to make it. And they’re, we want mom back. We want our old mom back.”

(p.182)

Nevermind the lack of compassion that injured workers often feel when dealing with compensation systems, the alienation and stigma surrounding injuries, and having to come to terms with temporary or permanent unemployment.

That aside, my supervisor and I (along with several other colleagues) have started to look at these indirect or vicarious effects of work injuries on the mental health of teenagers and some preliminary findings suggest that living with an injured parent has a bigger detrimental impact on mental health than do injuries experienced directly by young workers. An area of research that I suspect will get increasing attention in the coming years.

References

Cacciacarro, L., & Kirsh, B. (2006). Exploring the mental health needs of injured workers. Candian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 73(3), 178-187.

Project WIMH: Post #1

Back at it again. It’s been a while since I’ve had an opportunity to move this project forward on the empirical side.

To help with this process, I’ve decided to begin blogging my efforts towards completing Project Work Injury and Mental Health (WIMH).

Over the last semester I finally wrapped up the database search, which consisted of a ludicrous amount of screening (~23,000 articles!).

I also had the great opportunity to present some of the preliminary findings at SIOP 2019 in a symposium on mental health at the workplace. I’m very grateful to Dr. Jennifer Dimoff and her PhD student, Stefanie Fox, for organizing the symposium.

Now that I’ve screened all the articles from the database search, it’s time to vet through the articles I pulled. Usually you have to be pretty intellectually ruthless with this process, but sometimes you can’t help spending too much time on interesting articles.

For instance…

…Betters (2010) found that individuals who were injured at work were more likely to gain weight if they thought they would benefit from mental health services (albeit, no effect size was provided), hinting that the pressure to reduce the discprepancy between where they are physically with where they want to be is having psychological consequences.

…Blake and colleagues (2014) found that over close to 50% of individuals who witness work-related fatalities experience probable or sub-threshold PTSD symptoms, which in turn have striking effects on depression, life functioning, and well-being. This research highlights the importance of psychological interventions for dealing with traumatic events at work.

Anyways, back to being ruthless for a bit as I vet through the pulled articles!

References

Betters, C. J. (2010). Weight gain and work comp: A growing problem in the workers’ compensation rehabilitation system. Work, 37(1), 23-27. doi:10.3233/WOR-2010-1053

Blake, R. A., Lating, J. M., Sherman, M. F., & Kirkhart, M. W. (2014). Probable PTSD and Impairment in Witnesses of Work-Related Fatalities. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 19(2), 189-195. doi:10.1080/15325024.2013.775889