Agony and ecstasy in the gig economy: Cultivating holding environments for precarious and personalized work identities

By: Gianpiero Petriglieri, Amy Wrzesniewski, Susan J. Ashford


Building on an inductive, qualitative study of independent workers—people not affiliated with an organization or established profession—this paper develops a theory about the management of precarious and personalized work identities. We find that in the absence of organizational or professional membership, workers experience stark emotional tensions encompassing both the anxiety and fulfillment of working in precarious and personal conditions. Lacking the holding environment provided by an organization, the workers we studied endeavored to create one for themselves through cultivating connections to routines, places, people, and a broader purpose. These personal holding environments helped them manage the broad range of emotions stirred up by their precarious working lives and focus on producing work that let them define, express, and develop their selves. Thus holding environments transformed workers’ precariousness into a tolerable and even generative predicament. By clarifying the process through which people manage emotions associated with precarious and personalized work identities, and thereby render their work identities viable and their selves vital, this paper advances theorizing on the emotional underpinnings of identity work and the systems psychodynamics of independent work.