Freelancer Insights

Meaning-Making: Finding Motivation as a Contract Worker

A freelancer is happy about being passionate and finding meaning in their work.

Often, the most successful independent contractors are the ones who find meaning in their work. Now, a recent study reveals a fascinating method some freelance professionals use to engage with their craft.

Contract or freelance work is a 180-degree turn from a full-time job. Not only do contractors lack many of the resources provided by a salaried gig, but they also lack a daily routine. It turns out that many freelancers find motivation by making a game out of work.

A recent study by Lindsey Cameron at The University of Pennsylvania detailed her multi-year examination of the “gig economy.” Cameron’s research focused exclusively on rideshare drivers (even taking a job as a part-time Uber driver), but many of the results extrapolate out to contract workers providing professional knowledge work as well.

“This report basically describes a way to gamify work,” said Elizabeth Eiss, Founder and CEO of the talent curation and freelance recruiting platform ResultsResourcing. “Gamification is such an integrated part of our day-to-day lives that many people don’t even notice it. Whether it’s an exercise program that awards badges for progress, a health portal using points to encourage healthy eating and exercise, or a retail app rewarding you with discounts and freebies based on purchases, these are all examples of gamification. It makes sense that we would internally adapt those techniques to benefit ourselves emotionally.”

It’s important to note that an Uber driver’s job is already gamified. To encourage drivers to keep working, the Uber app uses a phenomenon known as a ludic loop (which is an activity that creates a feeling of progress even when there’s no definitive end, such as playing a slot machine or repeatedly checking email). When the driver attempts to log out, they are told that there’s only a bit of time remaining until they earn X amount of money. However, that form of gamification is designed to benefit the company. Cameron found that drivers created their own “games” to make their work rewarding, which benefits them.

“There's a cultural narrative that the gig economy is so terrible and so exploitive,” Cameron said in an interview about the study. "I honestly came into the research thinking that was true, but that's not what many of the drivers told me. They really liked it.”

Cameron found that most rideshare drivers used one of two games to make their work meaningful. She named them “relational” and “efficiency.” In the relational game, drivers attempt to provide superior customer service to earn great reviews. In the efficiency game, drivers strive to maximize their time behind the wheel, continually picking up and dropping off riders to make as much as possible.

“I truly believe that it’s essential for contractors to find work that is meaningful to them, whether that’s delving into something they are passionate about or, like many of these drivers, discovering that passion on the job,” said Eiss.

Cameron also listed the benefits of finding meaning in a job. From the report, “Work that is deemed meaningful (positive meaning) is associated with many benefits, including performance, motivation, identification, job satisfaction, empowerment, reduced stress, and fulfillment – in short, elements that foster engagement.”

“One interesting aspects of this report,” said Eiss, “is that it all looks deeply at the process of work regardless of the end result of that work. It’s remarkable that these contractors found ways to make their work meaningful. The most crucial aspect is that they strove to achieve superior results while at work, whether through outstanding customer service or efficient time management. The term I’d use to describe that behavior is professionalism.

“That type of motivated and professional contractor – ones who find meaning in the job they do – are who we aim to work with at ResultsResourcing.”

If you’re a freelance professional, we want to help you best-match clients who are looking for the skills and motivation you bring to the table. Interested in joining ResultsResourcing’s community of freelancers? Visit our Be Hired page for more information on getting started.

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ResultsResourcing blog

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