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Examining the Role of Autonomy in Independent Work Practices

  • Author(s): Abraham, Hillary
  • Advisor(s): Mazmanian, Melissa
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

More and more individuals are choosing to opt-out of the traditional workforce, instead exploring independent work arrangements. Autonomy has long been identified as a driving motivation for independent workers, but it remains unclear how these workers seek out and experience autonomy in their day to day lives. I address this open question through interviewing independent knowledge and creative workers, as well as conducting a diary study exploring 1) workers’ motivations for seeking out independent work and 2) how their work practices have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. I find autonomy is not monolithic; rather, there are several aspects of their lives over which workers feel they can have autonomy through working independently. Although workers’ autonomies were threatened, reduced, or removed during the COVID-19 pandemic, few considered returning to work at a formal organization. This research expands our understanding of autonomy by creating a framework detailing what autonomy means to workers and how that autonomy is practiced. Further, these stories demonstrate how crucial the various forms of autonomy can be to workers; people will continue to find meaning in their work as these autonomies crumble. Only when they disappear entirely with little hope of returning do workers consider abandoning independent work. Given these findings, it is crucial to continue exploring the role of autonomy in independent work as it is defined more broadly.

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