When the gig is up; gig workers don't always trust their boss and that might be a good thing.

September 10, 2023

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When the gig is up; gig workers don't always trust their boss and that might be a good thing.

As the so-called ‘gig economy’ continues to grow, so do questions about how this type of non-traditional work compares to full time work arrangements and how these new relationships differ and impact performance and commitment. Researchers took a closer look at gig workers – which include freelancers, independent contractors and temporary workers – and examined relationships between workers and their managers and found that one trait, trust, could be a double-edged sword.

What the researchers say: “Millions of workers are now considered gig workers, offering them more flexibility with schedules, working remotely and short-term assignments,” said the lead author. “Our research found that with this flexibility also means less traditional workplace interaction and relationship investment by employers which can lead to less trust by workers. But ironically, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because in some cases if something goes wrong, gig workers don’t seem to take it personally, rebounding more quickly and brushing it off.”

In their study, recently published in the Journal of Trust Research, researchers outline a series of four studies that looked at a variety of self-identified gig workers. Through surveys and tasks, they asked them to imagine a specific work situation that involved a certain level of trust and asked them how they would respond. Previous studies show that work relationships are important, and trust is a key component, but researchers found in this case when there was an issue of mistrust with a manager, the gig workers were not as emotionally invested in their relationship with their manager as traditional full-time employees, who had a tendency to take breaches of trust harder emotionally, which had subsequent impacts on their performance and commitment to their manager.

“Gig workers are such a huge part our economy and it’s not clear how well they are treated or respected,” the researchers explained. “Even though they rebounded more quickly, trust is important in building relationships with not only a manager but also with co-workers and teams and this study shows that it is important to invest in people, no matter their work circumstances.”

So, what? Many, many studies have shown that people work primarily to relate (though, of course there are many other factors which influence when, where and for whom they work). The work tribe is just about the only institution left where people can find fulfillment, status, and purpose and also satisfy the brain’s need to continuously learn.

All of these drives are relationship dependent and therefore all of them rely on trust. This is as true of gig workers as of permanent employees. Research has shown that the ability to trust those that you work with—or live with for that matter—is necessary for overall mental health.

The lack of trust which the researchers behind this study found may be one of the reasons that the level of depression among gig workers is higher than those in full employment (though gig workers are less depressed than the unemployed).

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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