Two articles with very different points of view on work in the sharing economy were published this weekend.
The New York Times article In the Sharing Economy, Workers Find Both Freedom and Uncertainty presents an unflattering view. Key quote:
... peer marketplaces as part of a larger global phenomenon, in which labor brokers encourage people to work on contingency without basic employment benefits or protections. The companies essentially channel one-off tasks to the fastest taker or lowest bidder, he says, pitting workers against one another in a kind of labor elimination match.
Tech Crunch's Algorithms Are Replacing Unions as the Champions of Workers describes sharing economy work in almost utopian language:
Through labor marketplaces and mobile apps, we are creating a world where workers are fundamentally in control of their economic lives ... The algorithm today could do for workers what unions did in the 19th century: provide a vastly improved market for work, one that is simultaneously more convenient, safe, and lucrative.
So who's right?
Both and neither, depending on how you look at it.
In our interviews, surveys and focus groups independent workers almost always describe what we call the yin and yang - or two sides - of independent work (freelancing, self-employment, etc.).
They tell us they love the autonomy, control and flexibility working independently provides. At the same time, they tell us they are challenged by the stress, uncertainty and insecurity.
For most independent workers, the good outweighs the bad and the majority report they prefer being independent.
For example, the survey work done as part of the multi-year MBO Partners State of Independence studies consistently shows a bit more than half of all independent workers prefer being independent and do not plan to seek traditional employment.
But these surveys also show about a quarter of independent workers don't like being independent and would prefer having a traditional job. The rest are on the fence.
The key factor indicating whether or not someone prefers independent work is how much work autonomy, control and flexibility they believe they have.
If they report being happy with their levels of work autonomy, control and flexibility, they generally report preferring independent work. If they report being unhappy with these, they generally tell us they would prefer traditional employment.
So both points of view about independent work presented in these articles are valid, but incomplete. This is common for this topic.
The more nuanced and accurate view that independent work is both good for most and bad for many rarely shows up in the media.