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  • Writer's pictureVik F.

Expert at UNCG Brings Gig Workers’ Challenges and Resilience to Light

The gig economy is booming, and more people are joining the freelance workforce every year. From delivery drivers to independent scientists, individuals are finding new ways to earn income and navigate the changing landscape of work. Brianna Caza of UNC Greensboro is dedicated to understanding the unique challenges these gig workers face and discovering how they can thrive.

Caza, an associate professor in the Bryan School of Business and Economics' Department of Management, specializes in organizational psychology. Her research focuses on how people succeed in challenging work environments, especially those who work independently.

The number of freelancers has surged, especially since the pandemic. Amid this rise, Caza is focused on figuring out how to help these workers become more resilient despite the challenges related to their identities, relationships, income variability, and emotional well-being.

Caza's journey into this field began during her dissertation work at the University of Michigan. She noticed that how workers viewed themselves significantly impacted their reactions to workplace stressors. "The content and structure of workers’ professional identities seemed to be something they drew upon when faced with challenges," Caza explains. Her subsequent research confirmed that a strong sense of identity indeed serves as a vital resource for resilience.

For gig workers, this issue of identity is particularly challenging. Their work can vary greatly from day to day or project to project, making it hard to define what they do. Without the stable badge of an organizational identity, many freelancers struggle to explain who they work for. This lack of clarity can lead to a range of challenges, from not having a clear career path to dealing with the emotional highs and lows of unpredictable work.

In her recent work, Caza and her colleagues have explored ways to help gig workers improve their motivation, focus, and energy management throughout an unstructured workday. They introduced two interventions to different groups of independent workers, both involving virtual social contact.

The first group participated in "Virtual Social Networking," where they exchanged tips and advice on managing independent work with strangers. The second group engaged in "Virtual Coworking," gathering in an online space to perform focused work exercises based on the Pomodoro technique—working for 25 minutes, taking a 5-minute break, and then repeating the cycle. A third group served as an active control, engaging in focused work on their own.

The results were encouraging. "Introducing virtual social contact—in both forms—had positive effects on workers’ outcomes, over and above their baseline and the active control condition," says Caza. Notably, those who participated in virtual coworking experienced benefits that extended to the end of the day.

For Caza, this research is not just about advancing the science of organizational psychology but also about making a tangible difference in people's lives. "I think people’s work lives have a big impact on the rest of their lives," she reflects. "A life well lived includes having a work life that you can be proud of, that you care about, that you feel competent in. For me, giving people tools that they can use to optimize their work life is rewarding."

Her work highlights a critical aspect of the modern workforce: the need for flexibility and support. The majority of gig workers prefer their flexible work arrangements and want access to benefits that aren't tied to a specific job but can move with them. Caza's research is paving the way for innovative solutions that provide the best of both worlds—flexibility and security.

As the gig economy continues to grow, the insights from Caza's work will be invaluable in helping freelancers thrive. By understanding and addressing the unique challenges they face, we can support a resilient and dynamic workforce ready to meet the demands of the future.



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