The purpose of this paper is to explore experiences and attitudes associated with “precarious work”, an umbrella term for insecure, casual, flexible, contingency, non-standard and zero-hour types of employment.
The investigation was carried-out through two studies. The “outside-in” view was represented by business undergraduates (n=56), responding to a four-item questionnaire on precarious work. It was contrasted with the “inside-out” perspective of migrant, care and hospitality workers (n=72) expressed in 48 in-depth interviews, and four focus groups.
Participant narratives included counterfactual comparisons that were more often of a downward (“it could have been worse”) than of an upward (“not as good as it could have been”) kind. Precarious participants spontaneously remarked that they were “lucky” (rather than “unlucky”) to be in precarious work.
Precarious work is likely to give rise to insecurity, uncertainty and vulnerability. However, this study distinguishes between the perspectives of “outside-in” observers, and “inside-out” participants. The former view was aligned with the standard view of work social scientists, yet the latter ran counter to both. Interestingly, the narratives of participants were compatible with the self-evaluations of people exposed to other hardships (like natural disasters).
There is a limited research on how the use of counterfactual thinking and difference of vantage points shapes attitudes and evaluations of precariousness. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study which has identified and explained the unprompted use of “luck” in the narratives of precarious workers.