Uber’s Gamification of its Driver Pool

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Even as Uber struggles to develop more palatable relationships with its drivers, it’s interesting to note how many different tools the ride hailing service is still using to manipulate them.

From encouraging longer drive times to moving drivers to areas where Uber would like them to work, the growing company is borrowing tactics from gaming psychology to pull the strings of their independent contractors.

Uber Exists in a Legal Loophole

Uber brilliantly attracted an army of drivers to its ride service under the pretense that they would be treated in every way as independent contractors. And although it is giving its drivers the ability to make their own decisions, Uber is still finding ways to play puppetmaster.

“We show drivers areas of high demand or incentivize them to drive more,” Michael Amodeo, an Uber spokesman, told The New York Times in a recent interview. “But any driver can stop work literally at the tap of a button. The decision whether or not to drive is 100 percent theirs.”

Protecting Employees in the Gig Economy 

Although not technically illegal, manipulative practices that exploit a human’s innate need to reach a particular goal, like Uber’s app pushing a driver toward an income goal even when they want to stop driving, may become a necessary consideration in a new frontier of employee protections as the gig economy continues to grow.

Gamification is a two-sided issue. On one side, a company can certainly use these techniques to help motivate and encourage bonding between employees that may rarely see one another face to face. The other side, however, is what Uber’s currently dancing with.

Using piles of data and testing, the company is literally finding better ways to manipulate workers that it wants to pay as contractors. By giving out badges, creating low value alerts that look too similar to high value alerts and pushing new fares onto drivers while they’re still finishing up their existing one, the company is putting real psychological pressure on drivers to keep driving.

If Uber truly wants to become driver-friendly, as it claims, it’ll figure out how to turn that data to the favor of drivers as well. For example, drivers who receive complaints or who display erratic driving behavior should be encouraged to take a break or quit for the day. In the same fashion, drivers who often won’t stop all day for a bathroom break might need a little nudge.

Uber’s problems are plentiful, but by pursuing a more driver-friendly policy, it will secure its future in the gig economy. Otherwise, it may end up losing significant share (and workers!) to Lyft.

 

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