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Bryan School professor secures $100,000 to further study gig economy

To say Dr. Brianna Caza has an interest in workplace resilience would be an understatement.

“I’ve been working on the topic since my dissertation,” says Caza, Associate Professor in the Bryan School’s Department of Management.

Her work is about to take an exciting new turn, as she and two co-authors, Sue Ashford (University of Michigan) and Brittany Lambert (University of Colorado) have secured $100,000 in the inaugural round of the SIOP Foundation’s Visionary Circle grant competition. The group plans to dive deeper into the subject of resilience in the gig economy, something Caza says she’s had her eye on for the past few years.

“We were really thrilled to have won,” said Caza. “This is the first year they’re offering it, and the foundation board is filled with amazing researchers and business practitioners, so we’re also very honored to be the first one to win it.”

People and Laptops
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When someone thinks of the gig economy, apps like Uber or Lyft may come to mind.

Caza and her coauthors define gig economy workers as individuals who work independently by either contracting to organizations or directly to consumers. These individuals sometimes work across different industries and often work on multiple contracts simultaneously, rather than for one organization. Gig workers include both lower-skilled positions as well as professionals who are independent and have advanced training and skills, she said. While there are many upsides to being your own boss, gig workers face significant challenges.

“Even if you’re in a professional level job, independent consultant, these people are paid generally well but it’s very feast or famine,” Caza said. “Their income is unpredictable month-to-month even though, generally, they could make six figures over the year.”

On a personal level, Caza is curious about how self-sufficient her children may need to be when they enter the workforce if there won’t be as many organizationally provided jobs.

“Business is evolving,” she said. “But it’s not all bad for workers. The independent consultants we studied for example report having way more autonomy and discretion over their work as compared to employed consultants. And people love that discretion.”

However, structuring that freedom can be extremely overwhelming, she says.

“Especially when your work volume is unpredictable,” said Caza. “It’s hard to even develop a routine. This type of work is way more emotional because you’re completely responsible. It’s a reflection of you. You don’t have an organization to  protect you financially or psychologically.”

While independent work can be thrilling for some, it can be a devastating lifestyle for others, handling challenges of viability, income, and identity. Caza hopes to develop an intervention to try and help gig economy workers cope with that unpredictable environment.

“What I really hope to do, our general goal is to help vulnerable gig workers figure out what resources they need to manage their own work lives effectively, and provide guidance on how they can generate these resources on their own,” she said.

Earlier this year, Brianna Caza was featured in the Harvard Business Review for her work on resilient workplace relationships. Recently, she wrote a piece for the Bryan School website about resilience during a pandemic.