January 31, 2024

How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers? Buttons

It seems like the ubiquity of the on-demand economy is shaping our workplaces in unexpected ways. Uber personifies the best and worst of this trend: its drivers are technically self-employed contractors, but they operate without employee protections and often must work long shifts to make ends meet. As the New York Times explains in a riveting article, Uber uses behavioral science to push its drivers’ buttons.

The company tries to motivate drivers by imposing goals meant to push them a little beyond what they might do in the absence of external stimuli, such as messages on their apps saying “Only ten rides away from making $100” or “One more ride and you’ll earn more than $333.” These prompts use an idea known as goal gradient—by showing people how close they are to reaching their desired outcome, the perceived value of that accomplishment increases.

Uber also tries to keep drivers on the road with a technique called forward dispatch, which assigns a new ride to them before their current one ends. Its creators believe it’s better for the business than simply waiting around until a driver is ready to take a new ride, but critics argue it overrides the drivers’ self-control and leads them to drive past their limits.

To combat this, Uber is working on a feature that will allow drivers to tell the app they’re taking a break or want to leave early. And it’s trying to give drivers more control over their schedule by using an idea from gamification—the notion that rewards, such as digital badges, can encourage desirable behaviors.

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