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Workers in the gig economy feel lonely and powerlessAuthors: Paul Glavin, Alex Bierman and Scott SchiemanDate: 2020 From: Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online CollectionPublisher: Gale, a Cengage CompanyDocument Type: Viewpoint essay Length: 1,104 wordsContent Level: (Level 4)Lexile Measure: 1230L
Full Text: Article Commentary
“In the gig economy, your boss may be an algorithm, and you are subject to the whims of fluctuating demand and a star system thatrates every interaction.”Paul Glavin is an associate professor of sociology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Alex Bierman is an associateprofessor of sociology at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta. Scott Schieman is the chair of the department of sociology atthe University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada. In the following viewpoint, the authors examine the mental and emotional wellbeing ofgig workers in Canada. After conducting a study that analyzed data on thousands of Canadians, Glavin, Bierman, and Schiemanassert that gig workers are lonelier than employees who work in conventional positions and are more prone to feelings of anxietyand depression. Disputing a commonly held belief that gig work makes people feel empowered, the authors instead report that gigemployees feel out of control and helpless to solve their problems. In conclusion, Glavin, Bierman, and Schieman argue that gigwork takes a psychological toll on people. They urge Canadians that the benefits of a flexible workforce may not justify the costs.
As you read, consider the following questions:
According to the authors, what is Uber Works, and what does it foretell about the future of work?1.What evidence do Glavin, Bierman, and Schieman provide to support their findings that gig jobs are increasingly isolating2.employees from social and emotional connections?In your opinion, does the flexible economy provide workers with more control over their professional life than traditional3.employment? Explain your answer.
The gig economy is quickly becoming a central part of Canadian life. The jobs aren’t just limited to Uber and Skip the Dishes. Grocerystores, laundries and more are banking on a new workforce that will accept jobs on a per-task basis.
Even a hallmark of Canadian life—snow-shovelling—is being absorbed into the gig economy. A recent startup in Calgary letshomeowners hire shovellers using their smartphones.
As sociologists, we envision a decentralized workforce, bereft of regular human contact or continuous employment. Yet this outlookstands in stark contrast to optimistic portrayals of a flexible economy that empowers workers to control their own fates. Whichnarrative—decentralized and isolated or connected and empowered—best reflects the reality of Canada’s gig workers?
It turns out that separating the hype from reality about the Canadian gig economy is no easy task, given the dearth of available dataon gig workers.
One in five workers in gig economy
We therefore set out to conduct surveys with a representative slice of the Canadian employed population—gig and non-gigworkers—as part of the 2019 Canadian Quality of Work and Economic Life Study. Our preliminary findings, as yet unpublished, arethe result of interviews with 2,524 working Canadians from this study.
Our survey was conducted online, using a nationally representative panel maintained by the firm Angus Reid Global. We asked aboutpaid activities on a per-fee basis—from food delivery and freelancing to ride-share driving and completing tasks online. If arespondent said they had performed any of these activities in the last month, they worked in the gig economy.
Our results showed that participation in the gig economy is quite common, at almost one out of every five workers—a participation
rate similar to other Canadian and American estimates.
Gig economy workers appeared to be suffering compared to more conventional workers. For example, we asked our respondentsthree questions that are commonly used by social scientists to indicate loneliness.
People could report if they lacked companionship, felt left out and felt isolated from other people. Gig workers were almost twice aslikely to report frequently experiencing a sign of loneliness. Gig workers also scored higher on a mental health measure capturingexperiences of anxiety and depression.
Even if gig economy workers are more lonely and distressed, are they at least more empowered?
This doesn’t appear to be the case, either. We presented our respondents with a set of questions social scientists often use tomeasure powerlessness. These are questions about whether people feel helpless in dealing with their problems, or have little controlover their lives.
Gig economy workers were 50 per cent more likely to report feelings of helplessness, and almost 40 per cent more likely to reportfeelings of little control. If anything, then, gig economy workers were more likely to report powerlessness than other workingrespondents.
Lonelier and less happy
Gig economy workers were therefore lonelier, less happy and felt less in control of their lives than other workers.
But gig economy workers are also demographically very different than more conventional workers. Our results showed that gigeconomy workers are younger and less likely to be married. Gig economy workers also tend to work longer hours and are less likelyto have higher education.
So could we be seeing these results because the gig economy pulls from a different population base than the more conventionalwork force? No. In fact, none of these factors ruled out the differences we observed.
It is not difficult to see these patterns reflected in the everyday stories and experiences of current participants in the gig economy.Uber passengers can now select a “quiet preferred” option, effectively turning drivers into silent chauffeurs. In-store shoppers wanderthe aisles of grocery stores filling orders for delivery, surrounded by, but often invisible to, the actual employees of the store.
In the gig economy, your boss may be an algorithm, and you are subject to the whims of fluctuating demand and a star system thatrates every interaction. The result is a precarious workforce that is often isolated and powerless.
A grim future of work
If this is the future of work, it may be a lonely and uncertain future for many workers. But the future of the gig economy is itselfuncertain.
A new California law that will force many employers in the Golden State to reclassify “app-based” contract workers as employeesmay stunt the growth of the gig work model, or radically restructure it. It goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
At the same time, Uber—a pioneer of the on-demand labour model—seems intent on extending its role as an intermediary for giglabour via a new shift-work finder app, Uber Works, that matches workers to services beyond the ride-sharing industry.
Our survey shows how the gig economy is already a central part of many working Canadians’ lives. It is also an increasinglyimportant way for many consumers to obtain goods and services.
But there’s a considerable psychological cost for workers in this new economy. Canadians will soon need to grapple with the questionof whether the ease and flexibility provided by the gig economy is worth these costs.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2021 Gale, a Cengage CompanySource Citation (MLA 9th Edition) Glavin, Paul, et al. “Workers in the gig economy feel lonely and powerless.” Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2021.
Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, link.gale.com/apps/doc/MCLWWU498039080/OVIC?u=pgcc_main&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=6d80e74e. Accessed 9 Dec. 2021. Originally published as “Workers in the gig economy feel lonely and powerless,”The Conversation, 20 Nov. 2019.
Gale Document Number: GALE|MCLWWU498039080
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