Sub-theme 16: A Good Life for the Fluid Workforce: Illusion or Reality?

Aizhan Tursunbayeva
University of Naples Parthenope, Italy
Luigi Moschera
University of Naples Parthenope, Italy
Daniel Samaan
International Labour Organization, Switzerland

Call for Papers

The labor force of most economies and enterprises has become more diverse over the last decades. Thus, we have seen that the “standard working relationship” has been declining in many countries and that the contractual statuses of workers have become more varied (ILO, 2016). Moreover, not all employment relations today take place within a bounded space, a structured time, or with a task-based job description (Minbaeva, 2021). All these triggered the emergence of workforce referred to as freelancers/independent contractors, temporary gig workers, paid-crowdsourced workers, moonlighters, workers borrowed from partners, volunteers, or hybrid workers that was recently proposed to be grouped under an umbrella term “fluid” workforce (Altman et al., 2021; Capgemini Research Institute, 2020; Vaiman, 2021). Overall, there is no one common definition of fluid work, except the acknowledgment that many people today do essential work for organizations that cannot be easily subsumed under the classical employee–employer relationship and that this workforce is also an integral part of the broader workforce ecosystem (including also regular employees) and are vital for creating value for organizations (Altman et al., 2021).
Organizations use a fluid workforce to address a specific need when it comes to specialized skills (e.g., related to some specific projects), cost reduction (e.g., related to savings on benefits such as pensions, or office space needed), quality (usually these are specialized experts in some specific field), speed (with deep expertise comes agility and speed), and globalization efforts (i.e., experts needed in some specific country without sending expats) (e.g., Altman et al., 2021; Capgemini Research Institute, 2020; Vaiman, 2021).
Fluid work is overall not new but has significantly expanded in scale. Especially, the Covid-19 crisis has rushed its arrival together with the advent of a new broader “Future of Work” (World Economic Forum, 2020). Thus, the lockdowns have triggered the proliferation of remote or hybrid work, automation, and reliance on working arrangements other than full-time workers because also organizations became more fluid as jobs are being deconstructed, reinvented, and more and more automated (Boudreau & Donner, 2021). The line between who is an employee, and hence part of the workforce, and who is not has also become blurry. This potentially offers more flexibility in working arrangements but also poses challenges to workers, enterprises, and society.
Unlike regular workforce, fluid workers are often not on the organization’s payroll, have temporary contracts, enjoy either no or limited benefits including social security, and their work is not as of yet well-regulated from a legal standpoint in many contexts (e.g., Davis-Blake et al., 2003; ILO, 2016). These consequently question also the quality of their good life (e.g., Caza et al., 2021) such as their wellbeing or work-life balance.
Fluid work and its implications are being widely discussed uncritically in the practitioners’ circles (e.g., Altman et al., 2021; Capgemini Research Institute, 2020), which provides a one-sided view on this matter. Despite these, growing media and public attention generated because of worker classification and misclassification, discrimination, harassment, and wage and benefits issues, academic research in the area is still relatively scarce. As the diffusion of the fluid workforce (e.g., gig workers) and relevant technologies (ILO, 2021) generated many of these legal and ethical concerns (Tursunbayeva et al., 2021), we believe it is important to understand implications from fluid work arrangements for workers, enterprises, managers, and society more broadly so that we can organize and manage fluid workforce for the “good life” (and happiness) of all of these actors.
Therefore, we invite conceptual and empirical contributions that have been inspired by the multidisciplinary, multi-level, multi-stakeholder, multi-method, and culture-sensitive approaches (Caligiuri et al., 2020) on diverse types of the fluid workforce in different sectors (e.g., the reliance on the fluid workforce in healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic) as well as on their relations and interactions with employees with traditional contract types, especially if these can provide learning for their organization and management, as well as contribute to a good quality of their life. A non-exhaustive list of relevant research topics includes:

  • Who are fluid workers (e.g., occupations, roles) in different sectors, and have they been rising?

  • What are the main benefits and challenges related to organization and management of fluid workforce for employees, for organizations, and more broadly for societies?

  • What are the (physical and digital) experiences and perceptions of the fluid workforce on the quality of their interactions, socialization, collaboration, and more broadly on their jobs and life?

  • To what extent has Covid-19 been a trigger for the diffusion of the fluid workforce?

  • What are the strategies, processes, and practices related to the organization and management of the fluid workforce (e.g., their planning, job design, redeployment, career management, well-being, or remote and flexible working)?

  • What are the conceptual models for fluid work employment relationships, leadership, teamwork, motivation, and engagement?

  • How has the workforce architecture been affected by the arrival and diffusion of the fluid workforce?

  • What is the role of technology (e.g., HRIS; AI, machine learning, analytics) and data in the diffusion of fluid work, as well as its impact on the organization and management of the fluid workforce?

  • What data sources are available to grasp the scale of the fluid workforce internationally?

  • Are there any ethical and regulatory issues emerging related to the organization and management of the fluid workforce?

  • What does the future hold out for the fluid workforce?



Aizhan Tursunbayeva is an Assistant Professor at the University of Naples Parthenope, Italy. She teaches Organizational Design, Human Resource Management (HRM), and People Analytics. Aizhan’s research lies at the intersection of HRM, technology, and innovation.
Luigi Moschera is a Full Professor of Organization Studies and Pro-Rector (3rd mission) at the University of Naples Parthenope, Italy. He teaches Business Organization, Inter-firm Network Design, and Human Resource Management. Luigi’s most recent research focuses on contingent/alternative employment arrangements and their implications for employees’ attitudes, well‐being, and behavior. He authored several international publications on organizational change in the temporary work agency sector in Italy and Europe, and chaired a number of international conferences.
Daniel Samaan is an economist and senior researcher at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland. He is an expert in the analysis of global labor market trends, specialized in the links with globalization, new technologies/AI, sustainable development, and a new work culture. Daniel’s research has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and he is a regular public speaker on various labor market topics and on the Future of Work.