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Brianna Caza, associate professor at the Asper School of Business.

Brianna Caza, Richard Morantz & Sheree Walder Morantz Associate Professor of Business Ethics at the Asper School of Business.

Brianna Caza named one of Thinkers50’s ‘30 Thinkers to Watch for 2019’

March 28, 2019 — 

Brianna Caza, Richard Morantz & Sheree Walder Morantz Associate Professor of Business Ethics, at the Asper School of Business, was recently named one of the 30 Radar thinkers to watch for 2019 by Thinkers50. This award goes to people whose ideas resonate with others and pique interest within the world of management. Recipients come from all over the world and are CEOs and executives of organizations, entrepreneurs, and leaders in the field of research.

Caza was chosen based on her influence as a thought leader on the topics relevant to identity and authenticity in the new world of work. Her recommendations to managers and practitioners on these topics has been published in the Harvard Business Review. Her most recent work focuses on how individuals learn to thrive amidst the challenges they face in the gig economy. This term refers to a world of work defined by multiple short-term contracts, often across different workplaces and industries. Her work has previously been featured by UM Today.

What does this award mean to you?

This award is significant because it is a signal that some aspect of my research on the realities of life in non-standard professional positions resonates with those who are actually experiencing it. I hope that by highlighting the realities of life in the gig economy, my research can provide some insights on how we can improve gig workers’ professional lives.

What made you want to study the gig economy?

I like the fact that these people are working ways that challenge our traditional assumptions about why and how people traditionally do their work. We often think of the gig economy as being constrained to a certain type of work (e.g. Uber drivers, etc). However, the statistics show that the population of people who are entering the gig economy are quite diverse in terms of their industry, skill sets and experience.

Further, the exponential growth in this sector of the work force means that we need to work to understand this new reality, and update our theories about working in this less organizationally-centered way accordingly.

Also, as a professor, I was finding that a lot of students couldn’t relate to the traditional workplaces used as examples and in case studies in the classroom. Many did not have experience in these traditional firms, nor did they plan to join one upon graduating. Additionally, I also felt that many of my students were unjustifiably worried about their future as workers in the gig economy. Often times popular press focuses on the downsides of this type of work. Obviously those downsides are real, but there are also important upsides. For example, independent consultants experience a wide range of outcomes. One consultant may thrive on the flexibility of work and the ability to make more of an impact on an organization, while another consultant may struggle with the uncertainty that comes with working on an independent basis. Students should be aware of the trade-offs to working independently, and learn to build capabilities to maximize their experiences if they decide to go independent.

Have you ever worked in the gig economy?

It depends on how you look at it. I think that all jobs—even tenured jobs in traditional organizations—are being influenced by the gig economy model. So while I work for an organization, I do juggle a lot of “gigs” or projects that I pursue and manage simultaneously. Also, I resonate with what I have heard from multiple jobholders in the gig economy because I experience the drive to want to do many things and see myself as being composed of multiple identities. So, in this sense I can see similarities and relate to those I study. 

Do you find there’s a difference in writing for an academic audience and writing for the Harvard Business Review and other practitioner-oriented publications?

At its core, skill of writing is transferable. I don’t find it different writing for these two audiences because when I pursue a project, I think about both the theoretical and practical implications simultaneously. I appreciate the opportunity to think to both audiences.

Has being a researcher in this field taught you how to maintain a sense of balance in your work life?

I’ve learned a lot from those I study, especially when it comes to the development of boundaries and best practices when you work independently. It takes a lot of discipline, experimentation and dedicated practice to work well in this way. Independent professionals who are successful develop very interesting strategies to deal with the complexities of their work. For example, something one of my participants discussed doing that I’ve found very helpful in my own research is what she calls “batching”. In practice, this involves simply looking at your agenda items for a period of time, such as a week or a month, and then grouping all the similar tasks and doing them at the same time. For example, I’ve begun scheduling all my meetings on the same days every week.

Figuring out what works best for you in terms of batching can be a process of trial and error. Over time I have learned that if I have a lot of writing to do one week, I need to block out my mornings for it because I know that’s when I write best. So, you try to batch tasks together, and also schedule these batches at the time in your week that work best for your particular needs.   

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