When an Algorithm is Your Boss

By Melanie Yetman
Technology and Innovation Writer

Algorithmic management is the basis of the gig economy which encompasses companies such as Uber and Doordash. By inserting workers and the contextualization of data, decisions emerge out of the algorithm that the gig economy uses to fuel their businesses. Decisions such as incentives, penalties and shift assignments are all decided by the algorithm. Algorithms create the idealized version of a task based on customer reviews, the weather, or other given data.

As gig economy jobs become more prevalent, there is increasing concern about the treatment of this important class of workers (Photo courtesy of Brett Jordan on Unsplash)

On paper, the gig economy seems to have a lot to offer employees in terms of flexibility. One can schedule their own hours, work as much or as little as they would like, and it revolves around their pre-existing schedules. Best of all, it is all based on an algorithm, so it does not require careful planning from a human manager. Essentially, your boss is the application. Technology determines when and where the workers are needed, the exact task to be completed, and which workers are available. It seems easy, right?

At this point, you must be thinking that this is a great opportunity for someone who needs a little extra spare cash and has a limited schedule. However, while the flexibility is advantageous, there are many downsides to working in the gig economy. These workers are considered independent contractors, meaning they do not receive the benefits from having an employer. Gig economy workers are required to pay both the employer and employee’s social security tax while receiving no health benefits, sick leave, or workers compensation. In addition to this, they rely on their own out of pocket expenses for a car, gasoline, and other necessities to perform their job. Not to mention, they have little to no job security, as they are considered easily replaceable to the company.

To make matters worse, while they may be considered “working” during a period of time, they are not paid if they are not performing. This means that while the worker waits on the algorithm to assign them a task, they are not being paid. Since the majority of workers within the gig economy are reliant on this type of work, these companies use this to their advantage. They employ more workers than necessary, so that they can always have a standby queue of workers. People wait around to service the company without receiving compensation or benefits for this waiting time.

Currently, there are protests surrounding the gig economy in favor of job benefits. For example, Proposition 22 is a current ballot initiative that will designate drivers as their own class of workers. By doing so, this would allow them to obtain minimum wage and workers protection as well as other job benefits. Furthermore, there are campaigns for guaranteed health insurance, collective bargaining rights, and a clear pay model. Shoppers for Shipt, a delivery service run out of Target, argue that the companies should release how the algorithm works to conquer the control the algorithm has over employees. It is important to note that while not every employee is controlled by the algorithm, these job benefits and rights would make a huge difference in the lives of those who depend on the gig economy for their primary source of income.


Please contact Melanie at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest