Having their cake and eating it too? Online labor platforms and human resource management as a case of institutional complexity

Jeroen Meijerink*, Anne Keegan, Tanya Bondarouk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
246 Downloads (Pure)


Previous studies have shown that online labor platforms want to have their cake and eat it too by implementing human resource management (HRM) activities to control gig workers who ought to be autonomous in their work. Our empirical study shows that using HRM activities to control gig workers creates institutional complexity and explores the strategies adopted by platform firms to address this complexity. Based on case studies of two meal-delivery platforms in the Netherlands (Uber Eats and Deliveroo), we identify freelance-related HRM activities that create tensions between the market and corporation logics. We show that online labor platforms rely on response strategies that integrate/balance, rather than rule out competing logics, including creating novel forms of HRM outsourcing, HRM devolution, and covert HRM implementation to control gig workers while simultaneously upholding their freelance status. Furthermore, we show that these response strategies are enabled by information technologies and the marketplaces that online labor platforms create, allowing for more experimental and dynamic approaches to HRM than so far theorized. The main implication of these findings is that the HRM activities for gig workers are simultaneously the source of, and the solution to, the institutional complexity associated with HRM for controlling freelance gig workers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4016-4052
Number of pages37
JournalInternational journal of human resource management
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2021


  • freelancer
  • gig work
  • Human resource management
  • institutional complexity
  • institutional logics
  • online labor platforms
  • response strategies
  • UT-Hybrid-D


Dive into the research topics of 'Having their cake and eating it too? Online labor platforms and human resource management as a case of institutional complexity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this