Uber uses psychological tools to push drivers into working harder and longer, for its own profit

A report in the New York Times has detailed how Uber plays with drivers' minds to get them to do what the company wants.
Uber uses psychological tools to push drivers into working harder and longer, for its own profit
Uber uses psychological tools to push drivers into working harder and longer, for its own profit
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Uber drivers in India and across the globe are increasingly expressing dissatisfaction over earnings and incentives decreasing while working hours increase. There have been many reports of how drivers are given the guarantee of earning high amounts by Uber but do not end up earning that much.

As a result, drivers are working overtime to meet targets in the hope of earning enough to pay for their cars, feed their families and be able to save. In fact, as per a report in Reuters, Uber is rethinking its strategy in India – Uber’s second largest market – as more and more drivers are abandoning leased cars.

It is interesting to note at a time like this, according to a report by The New York Times, Uber may be using psychological tricks to push its drivers to work overtime. While Uber claims to be trying to patch things up with angry drivers, it is engaged in an extraordinary behind-the-scenes experiment in behavioral science to manipulate them in the service of its corporate growth.

The report says that while Uber’s drivers are officially independent business owners, to maintain control over drivers, Uber uses psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work. Uber has worked with various social and data scientists and is experimenting with video game techniques and non-cash rewards to trick drivers into working longer and harder.

One such example is setting earning goals to keep drivers on the road longer. Drivers are alerted that they’ve almost reached their target just when they are about to log off.

And just like Netflix’s algorithm that automatically loads the next program to encourage binge-watching, Uber sends its drivers the next fare opportunity even before a current ride is over.

An Uber spokesperson told The New York Times that they show drivers areas of high demand to incentivize them to driver more. “But any driver can stop work literally at the tap of a button — the decision whether or not to drive is 100 percent theirs,” he says.

Uber’s communication with drivers over the years has also been aimed at dealing with areas that had a shortage of drivers by advising drivers to move to areas that might require more drivers.

In fact, Uber also experimented with female personas to increase engagement with drivers, who were ‘overwhelmingly’ male. It found that the uptake was higher when a female persona communicated with drivers.

However, how long this can work for is something that’s questionable. At least in India, drivers are beginning to recognize the dip in earnings and incentives.

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