Artificial intelligence depends on human labour to conduct tasks such as data cleaning, coding, and classifying content. This on-demand work is offered and performed online, paid by the task, on platforms like Amazon Mechanical Turk. Conceptualized as ‘ghost work’, this rapidly growing, platform-based work is largely unseen: workers are unable to speak with managers, do not get feedback, and lack labour protections. How do these specific work conditions influence ghost workers’ well-being?
To ensure decent work conditions as automation continues to expand, knowledge about the effects of ghost work on well-being is urgently needed. The proposed project will develop and test an integrative framework for analysing the effects of ghost work on worker’s well-being. Existing models for analysing the impact of work conditions on well-being fall short for studying ghost work, as these models assume a person has a job and most likely an employer and colleagues. Therefore, this project begins from the specificities of ghost work to synthesize theories and concepts about algorithmic control, occupational well-being, human computation, and platform labour, in order to understand how and through which mechanisms ghost work influences well-being.
The project will contribute to and advance cross-disciplinary scholarship on platform labour and organizational studies of algorithmic technologies. Using a multi-methodological approach to study the effects of ghost work, it begins with in-depth interview-based fieldwork on ghostworkers’ work conditions, and then entails qualitative diary studies of the short-term dynamics of ghost work for worker’s work conditions and well-being. Finally, a 4-wave longitudinal panel study will investigate the relationship between ghost work and well-being over time. Scholars in multiple fields, as well as policy makers and industry leaders, will be keenly interested in both the resulting integrative framework and empirical findings.
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Today, AI is increasingly demanding low-tech human support in coding, verification and cleaning of software material. The so-called ghost workers perform such short-term tasks on demand, anonymously, through automated platforms, without any feedback from colleagues or managers. Despite the growth of this particular phenomenon, the influence of such an occupation on work-related well-being remains under-researched. To address this urgent gap, the EU-funded GHOSTWORK project will conduct an in-depth study of ghost workers’ working conditions and how these impact their overall well-being. A new multi-methodological approach will be developed, enabling integrated models, theory and empirical findings.
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Have you been working via online platforms for days, months, maybe years? We want to talk with you, regardless of your level of experience! Our project is investigating how the unique conditions of platform work are impacting workers’ well-being: how is this work different from traditional employment and what does this mean for workers’ social and personal well-being? Through individual interviews with workers, we want to understand what influences your experiences performing this kind of work, and then put that understanding to use to help policymakers and platforms better consider the well-being of workers like you.
Professor ter Hoeven is the scientific director of the ‘Organizational Dynamics in the Digital Society’ programme and principle investigator of the Ghost Work project. Professor ter Hoeven’s scholarly interests encompass constant connectivity, remote work, digital labor, and employee well-being. Her current research and teaching focuses on how digital technologies reconfigure work for different people in different types of work. For her research on platform work, she received an ERC (European Research Council) grant to study the work conditions and well-being of crowdworkers in Europe.
The aim of this project is to gain insight into the possible consequences of digital technologies for the quality and organisation of platform work. With these new insights, we hope to better understand the job conditions of platform workers across Europe and contribute to the quality of work and development of sustainable employability in the digital society
Sofie Schuller obtained MScs in Psychology and in Work, Health and Career from Maastricht University. After first joining the ghostwork project as a research assistant, she will continue contributing to the ongoing research as a PhD candidate. With expertise in well-being and stress research, as well as occupational health, she is invested in unraveling the mechanisms involved in the well-being of workers working outside the well-established field of standard employment. In her work, she wants to contribute to building a healthy and sustainable future for the working society through informing policy with empirical insight.
During her PhD, she will develop a new scale assessing the unique working conditions of ghost work. Putting this new scale to use, she will investigate how these ever-changing working conditions affect workers’ well-being on a day-to-day basis.
Ryan Morgan earned his MSc in Sociology from Erasmus University Rotterdam, where he is currently pursuing his PhD. His research centers on the co-production of technology and society, particularly how emerging technologies challenge and shape social norms and values. Curious about socio-technical questions – What now constitutes work in the era of crowdsourcing? What does it mean to educate with Big Data? What becomes of privacy and identity in the shadow of datafication? – Ryan is intrigued by the social changes following in the wake of New Media and Big Tech, from the rise of social media and e-commerce to the expanding influence of AI and the IoT.
As part of the ERC project Ghost Work, he will be investigating where such work is conducted in Europe and interviewing workers about their motivations, work conditions, and experiences with online labor platforms to uncover the influence these factors have on workers’ well-being.
Irene van Oorschot joins the Ghost Work project as a senior lecturer at Erasmus University College (ESSB). Irene van Oorschot is an assistant professor whose work focuses on everyday practices of truth- and meaning-making. Her work spans pragmatic sociology, environmental sociology, science and technology studies, and the sociology of climate change.
Yuri S. Scharp joins the Ghost Work project from the Human Resource Management department of Tilburg University, where he is an assistant professor specializing in short- and long-term fluctuations in the well-being of workers. His research interests include playful work design, the impact of new technologies, and how to promote behavioral change.