What’s driving us in the gig economy?

One-off app-based jobs are becoming a way of life for many self-employed people.

If you have a car, you can make money as an Uber or Lyft driver. If you’re a self-motivated type with skills you can market, you can sign up to apps like Fiverr or Indeed and grab what’s on offer.

But as that same flexible marketplace swells with other freelancers, all crowding around the same jobs and effectively driving the returns down, what keeps people motivated?  Behavioural science, it seems.

Pushing the buttons

In ‘How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons’, New York Times writer Noam Scheiber describes the methods used to keep drivers behind the wheel and generating income (with some brilliant infographics). Video game techniques, graphics, cash inducements and opt-in nudges are all brought into service to ‘incentivise’ drivers to stay behind the wheel.

In September 2017, a heavily pregnant Lyft driver called Mary was celebrated by the company for not only going to work, but picking up a fare while going into labour.  

Fiverr advertises its ideal ‘doer’ as someone who’s drug of choice is sleep deprivation. Both cases caused a furore on social media, as these work practices were seen as exploitative, rather than stoic.

Getting people to voluntarily overcome the urge to rest requires some pretty powerful behavioural techniques or ‘incentivations’ which may become the method of choice for companies attempting to maximise their profits from a workforce they don’t technically employ.

Some of the most addictive games ever made (such as Tetris) involve a mental state where we feel like we’re progressing towards a goal just beyond our grasp; it’s been called the ‘ludic loop’.

This article raises the question; are workers in the gig economy caught in the loop or choosing to take part at will?

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Uber Taxi ad with thanks to Alper Cugun via FlickrĀ