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Who am I today?

Identity crisis in the gig economy

October 31, 2017 — 

A growing segment of the business community may be struggling with an identity crisis, University of Manitoba researchers report in the Harvard Business Review.

The problem stems from the gig economy—a setup wherein companies and workers do not enter a long-time relationship but rather each rely on multiple short-term and temporary contracts. Given that these workers often balance many contracts at a time, the researchers thought logistics would pose the biggest challenge: how do you manage your time when balancing different demands?

But when lead author Brianna Caza, an associate professor in the U of M’s Asper School of Business, and her colleagues interviewed 48 people who held upwards of six jobs simultaneously, they found that multiple jobholders often developed sophisticated tools to manage the logistical demands. But, as they report in the Harvard Business Review, their informants who were straddling multiple jobs, found themselves grappling to develop a sense of authenticity.

“Because one’s occupation is such a core part of one’s identity, those engaged in multiple jobs may find themselves plagued with issues of authenticity: who am “I” really, if I’m all these things at once?,” they write.

The study, originally published in Administrative Science Quarterly, went on to identify three crucial pieces of advice for those in, or entering the gig economy.

The advice

Be selective in the feedback you get, at least at first.

  • “Several of our informants reported being told they were a ‘dilettante,’ ‘uncommitted,’ or had ‘career ADD’ when they expressed their interest in multiple career areas. This feedback can be extremely detrimental to your confidence if you are just starting to dip your toe into a new career pursuit.”

Focus on each job until you gain confidence, but then forge connections.

  • “Once you have gained a sense of authenticity to each of your job roles, start searching for a common thread across your portfolio.”

Embrace yourself as being composed of multiple (sometimes distinct) identities.

  • “Accepting that it was okay to hold multiple jobs, despite being counter to cultural norms, allowed them to open themselves up to new ways of seeing themselves and ultimately allowed them to find deeper levels of authenticity in their work.”

“The bottom line is that, for plural careerists, being authentic does not mean being the same across time and context,” Caza and her colleagues report. “People often assume consistency is a marker of authenticity. But, in fact, attempting to be consistent to a single self can actually become a barrier to authenticity. We are, as humans, many things. And working multiple jobs can help people to activate and enact the multiple dimensions of their true nature.”

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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