Skip to Main Content Skip to bottom Skip to Chat, Email, Text

What Every Gig Worker Needs to Know

Dealing with the social and emotional expanse of gig work in a new era

By Dr. Rodney Luster

In Part I of this blog series blog on Gig working, we explored the roots of gig work and its revitalized emergence recently. But, there is much more to understand and explore about the nature of gig working and most especially, how gig workers "experience" the role and what they will need to successfully embrace it. In this post, we will also explore the facets of components that every gig worker should consider and plan for so that they are well-prepared as they continue to work in the gig economy.

Experience becomes the teacher

Here is what we know, and that is that those working and living in the gig economy will require much more when it comes to successfully navigating the market and the role (Ashford et al., 2018). Success in the gig economy is layered with uncertainty, and it is dependent on an array of variables such as the intrinsic motivation of the gig worker to self-initiate in areas such as marketing one’s self, engaging the public proactively, working confidently amidst issues, balancing life and personal issues, and more. This is all done while meeting the demands and needs of the urban economy for services being offered. The entrepreneurial spirit is, however, very alive in these practices, despite their challenges. So how should we nurture our professional life as a gig worker to ensure that we are positively engaging the experience? Here we will explore five primary components every gig worker needs to pay attention to if they want to thrive in today's work world.


The Gig worker and "social anchoring"

Loneliness is inherent in the role as gig workers as they move from job to job and client to client based on the various “micro” needs of the client. One of my friends who is a DoorDasher mentions “loneliness on the job” this way,

Although I like being on the road and doing this my way, I am often left to my thoughts between orders. Sometimes that may not be good depending on the kind of day I am having.”

Gig worker

Although I like being on the road and doing this my way, I am often left to my thoughts between orders. Sometimes that may not be good depending on the kind of day I am having.”

Our psychology is built around meaningful interaction. The “autonomy” of gig work sets up a dual psychological experience of feeling bereft of organizational attachments alongside identity-based challenges amidst the desire for freedom and autonomy. Normally we would engage a community at work, but gig workers do experience a sense of “aloneness” in what they do, which can spiral into loneliness and further into depression. This aspect of autonomy and lack of attachments can be an undermining factor if left unchecked (Kunda et al., 2002). Having good social anchors outside of work, whether it is friend groups, church or other socializing activities is a good refueling device for gig workers.

"Bricolage" and applying resources

Bricolage is about engaging and applying resources available, building from diverse materials, to handle issues or tackle goals, and is imperative for gig workers (Ashford et. al., 2007). Bricolage may occur when we assess and combine resources creatively for issues such as the sudden loss of a job or job resources, or interruptions in the day. Bricolage helps the gig worker build behaviorally adaptative skills by thinking creatively through sudden issues rather than falling back on formerly rehearsed alternatives and actions.

Bricolage requires proactivity. Harnessing proactive states of behavior in an anticipatory action-oriented way. This means proactivity harnessing a “self-starting” type of behavior that is not only present-focused but future-focused as well, to make the necessary modifications in “self” and one's resourcing that will help build resilience, self-efficacy, and create sustainable business practices to assist in preparing for unanticipated external shocks.

Proactivity in in fact is already present in gig workers because of the inherent nature of such environments that are built on autonomy, accountability, ambiguity, and discrepant events. These aforementioned conditions are present and foster proactivity most of the time, so adding bricolage practices to that palette will help gig workers become more prepared for a variety of situations.

Creatively enhancing “skill development” for the gig worker

Gig workers must come to embrace the idea of self-initiating or self-starting behaviors throughout their career and this applies to enhancing one’s development and competencies due to frequently changing marketplace conditions. Gig workers should not count on their employers for skills development since such connections are fleeting and unpredictable. Instead, those who engage in gig work must learn to embrace self-initiating behaviors where they take the reigns of development and learning “on the side,” which will also help foster multi-core competencies.

Pursuing opportunities outside one’s comfort zone to learn new routines is the first step to kick-starting the self-initiating process. Additionally, finding and seeking out newer ways of doing things can help build core competencies in areas such as communication, marketing, and digital skills. Self-initiated kick-starting will be important for those who want to remain salient and viable in the new gig economy.

Building "relational" networks

I mentioned earlier the challenges of “psychical" loneliness for gig workers given their autonomy in work, however, the conditions that foster loneliness in gig work are modifiable. We know that relationships shape individuals' perceptions of work. Gig workers, with a little planning and strategic efforts, can engage their “relational connectedness” by developing relational supports through crafting what is referred to as a relational network that ties both “inside work” to “outside work.” Such efforts help grow one's human connectedness and also help mitigate the loneliness and stress of the role.

For some, gig work may align with a natural predisposition towards introverted tendencies, but there is still an important aspect to fostering a support network. This may mean for those who chose gig work based on the desire to work alone, to work on developing one’s relational agility further. These would be skills relative to cultivating relationships quickly, forming new relationships, and maintaining current ones. Our professional acumen takes on a more purposeful and renewed focus when we learn to utilize relationships more productively, and in this case, perhaps more so for their "seasonal" natures (Petriglieri, 2011).

Learning to regulate “oscillating” emotional content

Surface acting, where one controls or inhibits emotions to manage impressions, may be something of a necessity in the short term for gig workers to engage their jobs productively (Diefendorff et. al., 2003). But it is also a “superficial” way to regulate emotional affect, and most often leads to suppression of emotions, alongside a feeling of cognitive dissonance. For gig workers, it is and will be imperative that they work towards a form of “deeper acting” thinking which is the more innate opportunity one has to regulate emotions by truly attenuating to one’s feelings and emotional states (Diefendorff et. al., 2003).

For example, a gig worker may smile and look a certain way on the "outside" but may be hurting on the inside, suppressing emotional content and ultimately creating internal health issues. Deeper acting is not a “fake it until you make it” attitude, but rather, a self-initiated reflective awareness such as acknowledging things like, “I feel sad, so then, what actionable steps can I take to modify this feeling state?” This could mean that gig workers build the necessary resourcing for down-regulating stress such as "practiced" methods using focused breathing, mindfulness approaches, or periodic therapy check-ins, to assist. There are many ways to steward in deep acting if we take "actionable" steps and account for the potential that one day, we may feel the "burdens" that may come with the role.

The need for more research

Ultimately, leadership and organizational research will need to look at these areas and measure the opportunities in the current climate of an ever-increasing gig economy. For researchers, there is also the prospect of understanding if, and how gig workers will build and utilize resources, helping us understand more about deficits and prospects. In the end, surviving and thriving in the new gig economy will require much more from the individuals who decide that "gigging" is where they want to remain.


Ashford, S. J., Caza, B. B., & Reid, E. M. (2018). From surviving to thriving in the gig economy: A research agenda for individuals in the new world of work. Research in Organizational Behavior38(0191-3085), 23–41.

Ashford, S. J., George, E., & Blatt, R. (2007). 2 Old Assumptions, New Work. Academy of Management Annals1(1), 65–117.

Diefendorff, J. M., & Gosserand, R. H. (2003). Understanding the emotional labor process: A control theory perspective. Journal of Organizational Behavior: The International Journal of Industrial, Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Behavior, 24(8), 945-959.

Kunda, G., Barley, S. R., & Evans, J. (2002). Why Do Contractors Contract? The Experience of Highly Skilled Technical Professionals in a Contingent Labor Market. ILR Review55(2), 234–261.

Petriglieri, J. L. (2011). Under Threat: Responses to and the Consequences of Threats to Individuals’ Identities. Academy of Management Review36(4), 641–662.


Rodney Luster, Ph.D.


Dr. Rodney Luster has been with the University since 2012. Rodney Luster is the Senior Director of Research Strategy, Innovation, and Development for the Research Center Enterprise (RSE) within the College of Doctoral Studies. In this role Dr. Luster helps lead innovation in research, as well as connecting the pragmatics of research to industry. A major part of this role is communicating out the research potentials inside the RSE.

He also runs his own private practice known as Inspirethought Therapy and is a contributing writer with his own Blog at Psychology Today.