Drivers in the gig economy

Lindsey Cameron, assistant professor of management at Wharton, discusses key findings from her research on how drivers in the gig economy create ‘workplace games’ to find control and meaning in their work.

Lindsey Cameron, assistant professor of management at the Wharton School, studies workers’ experiences in the gig economy. Her research focuses on how changes in the modern workplace (e.g., algorithms/machine learning, short-term employment contracts, variable pay) affect work and workers. She is currently studying how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting gig workers as well as examining how ride-hailing workers on three continents navigate disputes. Cameron breaks down how the experience of working in the gig economy differs from the experience of working in a more traditional employment setting.

Lindsey Cameron.
Lindsey D. Cameron is an assistant professor of management at The Wharton School. (Image: The Wharton School)

Gig work is not new, Cameron explains, citing agricultural and domestic work from earlier generations as original gig work. What explains the heightened interest in the gigantic economy today is the digital platform most gig work operates from. Today, gig workers are independent contractors. “They are not in a fixed long-term relationship with the organization and that they have the ability to set their own hours and move between different platforms easily,” Cameron explains.

“I’ve studied and roughly followed about 60 drivers for over four years,” she says. “I interviewed them, asking individual questions such as why they began driving and what a typical day looked like for them. I also asked about their interactions with customers and the app. Gig economy drivers use ‘workplace games’ as a mechanism of engagement. Through interacting with the customer and the app, individuals turn their work into games they find meaningful, can control, and ‘win.’”

Cameron’s research also explores the societal impact of the gig economy. “Does the gig economy have a positive social impact in this sense? I would say yes—but only sometimes. It depends on the platform company, the job, and the specific situation of the workers.”

Read more at Wharton Stories.