Various studies over the past few years have highlighted the value people place on things like autonomy in the workplace. Freedom to control how you, where and when you work is seen as a positive thing for many. Does this underline the rise of the gig economy or does the inherent instability of gig work offset any gains from the autonomy provided?
A recent study from Villanova University tried to find out. It’s already known that people take on gig work for a wide range of reasons, whether it’s to earn a bit of side income or to capitalize on the flexibility. Are they happier though?
The research compared job satisfaction levels from a series of surveys undertaken of Americans with a range of occupations and employment statuses conducted by the University of Chicago over the last decade.
Happy and contented
The surveys spoke to a wide range of workers. For instance, they spoke to full-time employees, contractors and self-employed workers with control over their work schedules, and contract workers who lacked this control. The sample also included people of varying degrees of seniority, from management to blue-collar workers.
The results revealed that control and autonomy was key. When gig workers had control over their schedules, and indeed which tasks they undertook, then they were much more satisfied than their peers in full-time work, even though they had none of the security and benefits those workers enjoy.
This bump in satisfaction was up to 8% for men and 8.5% for women, with the largest gains among people working in non-professional roles.
Suffice to say, there was no such boost in satisfaction for those who weren’t fortunate enough to enjoy any control over their work. Indeed, people in those roles were generally 4.5% less satisfied than their peers in full-time salaried roles.
The authors weren’t able to discern what it was about gig-style work that seemed to make people happier, but they suspect that the flexible nature of the work allows a diverse group of people to find things of value to them, whether it’s flexible hours or diversity of assignments.
It’s also perhaps worth noting that there was no apparent analysis done of differences within salaried roles, and whether employees with high degrees of autonomy whilst also enjoying benefits and security were indeed the happiest of all.
This is something that has emerged in previous research, so perhaps the morale of the story is that regardless of whether people are salaried or gig working, the more control they have over how they make their living, the happier they appear to be.