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Study Finds Flexibility of Gig Work Carries Considerable Value Despite Lack of Benefits

  • Harvard Business School study looks at the importance of flexibility in how DoorDash workers balance wages and quality of life issues
  • Gig workers associate a loss of control over scheduling with a significant equivalent pay cut, and 30 percent said they would quit if strict scheduling was imposed
  • Researchers say the findings highlight the newfound importance of flexibility in companies’ competitive strategies

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

A study of gig workers highlights the increased importance of flexibility to employees, with researchers determining that control over one’s schedule is playing a significant role in how people balance their wages and quality of life considerations.

Harvard Business School professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee and doctoral candidate Laura Katsnelson looked at the decisions of 426,385 DoorDash workers in California. The study spanned February 2019 to August 2020, capturing the increase in demand for food delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study found that a loss of flexibility for the top 10 percent of DoorDash earners was equivalent to a 17 percent pay cut. For the average driver, the loss was about one-third of that value.

  • There were significant differences among drivers, with some capable of working the same day or shift each week and others wanting to change their working hours at will
  • Researchers found that the equivalent pay cut was steeper for assignments to least frequently worked shifts, at 24 percent for the median driver and 36.9 percent for the average driver
  • 30 percent said they would quit gig work if strict scheduling was established during the most frequently worked delivery shifts
  • The average worker in the study did gig work 3.4 days a week for a total of 9.1 hours, earning an average of $20.33 an hour
  • While gig work does not typically result in enough hours for benefits like sick leave and overtime, it allows considerably more control over scheduling; this was reflected during the COVID-19 pandemic, when DoorDash workers ramped up their working hours during the heightened demand
  • The researchers say the study highlights how employers offering more flexibility can have a competitive advantage
  • Some companies have begun introducing technological options to improve flexibility, such as scheduling apps that allow workers to easily trade shifts

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