At a recent Health and Safety event I used the rise of the ‘Gig’ Economy and ‘Fake News’ as a back-drop for linking the two presentations that I gave. These were on (a) Applying ‘Nudge’ to Health and Safety and (b) Organisational Approaches to Stress Prevention. It so happens that since then, the headline news that the Transport for London (TfL) is potentially not renewing its current contract with Uber, has inadvertently knitted together the themes of ‘nudge’ and ‘gig’. Uber is widely regarded as a typical example of a gig economy business, it that it uses an app-based platform to allocate gigs, or pieces of work, to drivers. These drivers are treated as contractors. Accordingly, Uber pays drivers for each piece of work completed (1). However, to offset the reduced control that a client has over a contractor relative to that which an employer has over an employee, it would seem that Uber has used nudge thinking to keep its contracted drivers available and at-hand (2). This apparently has included, for example, drawing on ‘earning goals’ to alert drivers that they are ever-so-close to hitting their target at the moment they are about to log-off, sending messages about next fare opportunity before the current is ride is done, and working on ‘loss-aversion’ to let drivers know how much they could loose financially by not moving their availability to a busier time. Even though Uber appear to be arguing within the current appeal process that drivers are free-to-go at any time (3), it would seem that their contractor-drivers are being nudged to stay available for Uber’s business.
The recent news headlines claim that TfL’s reasons for ending their contract with Uber were due to reasons surrounding ‘lack of corporate social responsibility’ in relation to the ’reporting of serious criminal offences,‘obtaining medical certificates’ and ‘driver background checks.’ Transport for London also appear to have considered Uber’s use of ‘Greyball’ software to block regulatory bodies from accessing Uber’s platform, as further reason for not considering Uber a ‘fit and proper’ private car hire operator. While TfL has since offered Uber an olive branch (4), and while the decision is also currently being reviewed by an Employment Appeals Tribunal hearing, there are nonetheless two morality tales from this story.
First, it reminds us to be cautious about using nudges where they are not clearly in the recipient’s best interest. In the case of Uber, contractor-drivers appear to have been nudged to provide Uber more control over their availability. Drivers therefore seemingly felt compelled to hang-on for work that might or might not come in. In the case of safety, appropriately nudging a worker to be safer can only always be in the worker’s best interest; but we should still think through their potential knock-on-effects when designing them.
Second, it potently demonstrates how failure to show due consideration in respecting regulatory requirements as well as public and workforce welfare, even where the latter are contracted, can pose a serious reputation risk that is bad for business.
In today’s world of uncertainty, you may think that anyone who has a paid job should be grateful. Anything beyond that, concerning how well people are treated at work, how much job satisfaction they receive, and work-life balance might be interpreted as dispensable ‘nice-to-haves’ for more predictable times. As a business owner, or manager, we can easily become immersed in day-to-day business survival without speculating on whether our most valuable commodity, our people asset, can keep on going ‘the extra mile.’ When there’s deadlines to meet, having those conversations with individuals that might be struggling for the first time, can easily but put-off, especially if we anticipate a can of worms. Yet is this really sustainable? Could we be at risk of loosing our best asset by failing to plan for the longer-term?
Sickness absence is currently costing UK business £9billion a year1. We also know that the longer we are off-sick the harder it is get back to work, especially when it exceeds 4 weeks. Since small and medium enterprises make up 99.9% of UK employers, it is SME’s that are taking the brunt of these costs. So what can we do about it? How can we safeguard against loosing valuable members of staff?
Thankfully, we don’t need to invest huge financial resource to secure business sustainability via the commitment, competency and energy levels of our workforce. But we do need chance to think it through. Give yourself that opportunity by coming along to our course “Growing your People Asset”. Open to anyone with responsibility for managing staff welfare (e.g. business owner, line manager, HR or H&S manager) it is designed to give you chance to plan a more strategic long-term approach to managing workforce resilience. The course provides opportunity to utilise practical resilience tools, in a safe non-business critical setting.
These tools include developing know-how on:
Taking a reliable pulse of current resilience levels in the workplace.
Developing action plans for applying solutions to the day-to-day reality of your business.
This course is offered by experienced Chartered Work Psychologists with a track record of developing evidence-based solutions that work in business. Join us to find a way forward for making your business more sustainable by keeping your people asset resilient. That way they can stay effective in the face of uncertain times.
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