The gig economy is a rapidly growing market of laborers who provide freelance work or work through short-term contracts. Examples of gig workers include, but are not limited to: Uber and Lyft drivers, pet sitters, virtual assistants, freelance writers and copyeditors, and much, much more.
If you’re working a traditional job, then you’ve likely heard your co-workers, at some point, refer to their “side hustle,” which is something that, more often than not, entails working within the gig market. This market was rising even before the pandemic hit in 2020, with approximately 40 million Americans being reported as gig workers in 2018 and 2019. During the pandemic, and after millions lost their jobs, the gig market is now soaring. According to the same study, it has been predicted that more than half of American workers will be independent laborers by 2023.
How can leaders understand this shift, and plan for it? How can companies more deeply understand the reason behind this phenomenon?
Job Flexibility and What the Gig Economy Can Offer
Why do you think people who work traditional jobs still have a “side hustle?” The answer is probably obvious: they aren’t making enough money at their current, primary jobs. This is one of the many benefits of the gig economy. People can still maintain their primary sources of work while separately generating income elsewhere. More importantly, they are able to generate this extra income at their own pace. It depends on how much time and energy they have to do so, and they aren’t dependent on a rigid schedule.
Which brings us to flexibility, something that many Americans are not afforded in their traditional workplace. The pandemic certainly didn’t help; as offices and schools closed their doors or went online, many parents were obligated to become full-time employees and homeschool teachers. Additionally, a lot of parents were actually forced to quit their jobs in order to care for their children. Gig jobs allowed for flexibility in which people who found themselves in these circumstances were able to generate income, pay the bills, and still care for their families.
But millions of Americans who weren’t parents, or were even single, still yearned for this type of flexibility. Gig workers have also been known as independent workers, which raises curiosity about the alternative: being dependent, and what that means. If you aren’t currently an independent worker, then you’re likely working a traditional 9-to-5 job or industry job in which you are “dependent” upon an employer, a fixed and rigid schedule, and more—all culminating in a lack of autonomy.
Gig Work and Competition
Although the demand for gig work has increased during and after the pandemic, so, too has the competition. People who work in the gig industry, particularly as their only source of income, must now compete with one another for the actual gig opportunities. That means that millions of Americans are still going to be fighting for the sense of security they once felt upon entering the gig market. Gig work is growing exponentially but also shifting; people now have to work twice as hard on their brand, their skill sets, and their social media visibility in order to be seen and valued.This may be good news to many employers who rely on gig laborers, but it’s better to take on a more nuanced mindset in this area. Independent workers take their work just as seriously as they might a traditional job. It’s ill-advised to consider gig work as “easy” work; it’s not just grabbing an opportunity that comes your way. It’s more like investing in yourself as a business, which is quite demanding, especially if it’s a sole source of income. Not only that, but people generally take competitive work seriously; some people thrive in and enjoy a competitive mindset. If you are a talent leader who is worried about the turnover tsunami and losing people to the gig economy, you might want to consider making your workplace more competitive in a friendly, safe way.
How Leaders Can Foster Creatively Engaging and Flexible Environments
Perhaps your organization already relies on independent laborers. Or, perhaps you are leading a team of full-time, talented employees who are crucial to your organization’s success. The gig economy is not something to take lightly—as previously mentioned, people are making entire careers and having great success out of taking their talents to a self-employed arena in which they are completely in control of their destinies.
But the traditional workplace still exists, and you may want to learn more about the ways in which you can keep your place of business not just a viable, but attractive option for those who may be considering taking the other path. Here are some things to consider:
- Pay attention: One of the biggest reasons people decide to leave their jobs is because they don’t feel valued as a unique and valuable component of the team. Boredom and lack of appreciation play huge parts in this; many workers feel that they are slugging away at a spreadsheet, when they know they’re talented in other areas. Pay close attention to your employees—what are their interests? What do they enjoy? Are they seeming disengaged? What are they good at outside of their role? Do the work to offer them more opportunities within the organization, and give them more ways to improve their resumes.
- Offer career growth: One of the downsides to gig work is that it doesn’t offer a whole lot of career growth. The gig economy doesn’t necessarily have the same kind of hierarchy that exists in the traditional workplace. Career progression isn’t always about the money, either; it’s also about growing in expertise, and that’s something a lot of workers want for themselves. Make work more meaningful to your workers and show them that you take them just as seriously as people as you take their productivity.
- Give Your Employees More Autonomy and Purpose: Another downside to gig work is that it doesn’t offer the same exact security and benefits. For instance, some gig platforms require a certain level of engagement in order to allow gig workers to keep looking for opportunities. And, of course, they don’t necessarily work behind an organization that offers great 401k benefits, among others. Gig workers aren’t always their own boss, really—they rely on customers, good reviews and testimonials, as well as good online visibility. Look for ways that you can engage with your employees, give them reliable feedback, and listen sincerely to their needs for flexibility. Ensure that your workers don’t feel like leaders and managers want to babysit them, and show them that they can be fully trusted to execute their responsibilities, even if that means taking unconventional approaches to the workplace atmosphere.