Has working from online platforms a bright or hopeless future?

A step ahead with the master Digitalisation in Work and Society
Joriet van Eck

'Our research is the first to compare the work experiences of platform workers with employees with other employment contracts, such as self-employed workers or people with permanent contracts', says Yuri Scharp (30). He is a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer in the DWS master's programme (Digitalisation in Work and Society). That is unique. But not unique to the DWS master's programme.

The master’s degree is aimed precisely at investigating the consequences of digitisation at work. There is so much happening, and it is happening so fast. DWS is on the frontline of new insights from psychology, sociology, and public administration about what these trends mean for both the employee and the employer. Very timely. And very relevant', according to Scharp.

Involvement

The best-known platform work is delivering meals and offering taxi rides; these are all services where the work is collected on an online platform. Platform workers generally work long hours and have tight deadlines, but this gives them little security regarding income or job guarantee. "Is it exploitation, or does it offer opportunities?" is often the question. It is not so black and white', says Scharp. In our research into the differences between platform workers and other forms of employment, we saw that platform workers are enormously committed to their work, more so than other employees. That is because they experience a lot of autonomy. They decide for themselves how many hours and when they work.' The flipside of the coin is that the ratings, i.e. the assessments of customers, determine whether they are allowed to continue working. Suppose an Uber driver only gets one star because a customer doesn't think his car is new enough. In this case, the algorithm can decide to remove him from the platform, even though he may be the best driver ever!

Burn-out

‘We see that platform workers are not only more committed to their work but also more likely to suffer from burn-out. This is due to the short time limits to complete their work, accompanied by uncertainty. The task demands are high, and customer ratings and algorithms determine how much work there is. Still, I expect an increasing part of the labour market to become platform work, and even more complex work. At DWS, students also look at technological trends in the labour market. That usually doesn’t get much attention, but it has a great impact. It is our future. So, there is a lot to discover!’ says Scharp.

Distinguished

‘At DWS, we have built up a large dataset that students can use in their research,’ says Scharp. This way, you can be sure that your research is about real people, making the social relevance even greater.

‘I really enjoy doing innovative research. There is plenty of room for that at DWS.’ Scharp himself studied psychology at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and obtained his PhD there. Our research and education are close to practice. For example, students go on field trips and come into contact with organisations where ways of working and organising are changing due to automation and new technologies. You could say that the interdisciplinary cooperation between psychology, sociology, and public administration makes it like three master's in one. This makes it easier to  distinguish yourself in the labour market!

Take a look at the DWS webpage for the curriculum, career perspectives, and admission procedure.

Researcher

dr. Yuri Scharp

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