Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Big, Gig Picture: We Can't Assume the Same Constructs Matter

  • Alice M. Brawley (a1)


I am concerned about industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology's relevance to the gig economy, defined here as the broad trends toward technology-based platform work. This sort of work happens on apps like Uber (where the app connects drivers and riders) and sites like MTurk (where human intelligence tasks, or HITs, are advertised to workers on behalf of requesters). We carry on with I-O research and practice as if technology comprises only things (e.g., phones, websites, platforms) that we use to assess applicants and complete work. However, technology has much more radically restructured work as we know it, to happen in a much more piecemeal, on-demand fashion, reviving debates about worker classification and changing the reality of work for many workers (Sundararajan, 2016). Instead of studying technology as a thing we use, it's critical that we “zoom out” to see and adapt our field to this bigger picture of trends towards a gig economy. Rather than a phone being used to check work email or complete pre-hire assessments, technology and work are inseparable. For example, working on MTurk requires constant Internet access (Brawley, Pury, Switzer, & Saylors, 2017; Ma, Khansa, & Hou, 2016). Alarmingly, some researchers describe these workers as precarious (Spretizer, Cameron, & Garrett, 2017), dependent on an extremely flexible (a label that is perhaps euphemistic for unreliable) source of work. Although it's unlikely that all workers consider their “gig” a full time job or otherwise necessary income, at least some workers do: An estimated 10–40% of MTurk workers consider themselves serious gig workers (Brawley & Pury, 2016). Total numbers for the broader gig economy are only growing, with recent tax-based estimates including 34% of the US workforce now and up to 43% within 3 years (Gillespie, 2017). It appears we're seeing some trends in work reverse and return to piece work (e.g., a ride on Uber, a HIT on MTurk) as if we've simply digitized the assembly line (Davis, 2016). Over time, these trends could accelerate, and we could potentially see total elimination of work (Morrison, 2017).


Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Alice M. Brawley, PhD, Glatfelter Hall Room 412, Gettysburg College, Department of Management, 300 North Washington Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325-1400. E-mail:


Hide All

Thanks to Ann Marie Ryan for assistance with this research.



Hide All
Arthur, W. Jr., Keiser, N., & Doverspike, D. (2017). An information processing-based conceptual framework of the effects of the use of Internet-based testing devices on scores on employment-related assessments and tests. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Brawley, A. M., & Pury, C. L. S. (2016). Work experiences on MTurk: Job satisfaction, turnover, and information sharing. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 531546. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.08.031
Brawley, A. M., Pury, C. L. S., Switzer, F. S., & Saylors, S. A. (2017, April). Work analysis in the gig economy and the case of MTurk workers. Paper presented at the 32nd Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Orlando, FL.
Davis, G. F. (2016). Organization theory and the dilemmas of a post-corporate economy. In Gehman, J., Lounsbury, M., & Greenwood, R. (Eds.), How institutions matter! Research in the sociology of organizations (Vol. 48a, pp. 311322). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Deci, E. L., Olafsen, A. H., & Ryan, R. M. (2017). Self-determination theory in work organizations: The state of a science. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 4, 1943. doi:10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-032516-113108
Gillespie, P. (2017). Intuit: Gig economy is 34% of US workforce. CNN Money. Retrieved from
Landers, R. N., & Behrend, T. S. (2015). An inconvenient truth: Arbitrary distinctions between organizational, Mechanical Turk, and other convenience samples. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 8 (2), 142164. doi:10.1017/iop.2015.13
Ma, X., Khansa, L., & Hou, J. (2016, December). Toward a contextual theory of turnover intention in online crowdworking. Paper presented at the 37th International Conference on Information Systems, Dublin, Ireland.
Morelli, N., Potosky, D., Arthur, W. Jr., & Tippins, N. (2017). A call for conceptual models of technology in I-O psychology: An example from technology-based talent assessment. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 10 (4), 634653.
Morrison, M. (2017, April). SIOP shaken & stirred: What if work becomes optional in the future? Presented at the 32nd Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Orlando, FL.
Potosky, D. (2008). A conceptual framework for the role of the administration medium in the personnel assessment process. Academy of Management Review, 33, 629648. doi:10.5465/AMR.2008.32465704
Schmidt, G. (2015). Fifty days an MTurk worker: The social and motivational context for Amazon Mechanical Turk workers. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 8, 165171. doi:10.1017/iop.2015.20
Schultz, P. P., Ryan, R. M., Niemiec, C. P., Legate, N., & Williams, G. C. (2015). Mindfulness, work climate, and psychological need satisfaction in employee well-being. Mindfulness, 6, 971985. doi:10.1007/s12671-014-0338-7
Spretizer, G. M., Cameron, L., & Garrett, L. (2017). Alternative work arrangements: Two images of the new world of work. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 4, 473499. doi:10/1146/annurev-orgpsych-032516-113332
Sundararajan, A. (2016). The sharing economy: The end of employment and the rise of crowd-based capitalism. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Van den Brock, A., Ferris, D. L., Chang, C.-H., & Rosen, C. C. (2016). A review of self-determination theory's basic psychological needs at work. Journal of Management, 42, 11951229. doi:10.1177/0149206316632058
Zyskowski, K., Morris, M. R., Bigham, J. P., Gray, M. L., & Kane, S. K. (2015). Accessible crowdwork? Understanding the value in and challenge of microtask employment for people with disabilities. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 1682–1693). New York: ACM. doi: 10.1145/2675133.2675158


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed