The Gig Economy and the Rise of Nontraditional Work
Written by Hannah Bergstrom for Diplomatic Courier
The sharing economy, which brought about the spectacular rise of services such as Uber, TaskRabbit, and Grubhub has brought about the rise of nontraditional, part-time, and temporary jobs. Additionally, the economic changes brought on by the Great Recession of the late 2000s have increased the need for nontraditional jobs—also known as gigs. Gigs are everything from freelance work, online-based work, on-call jobs, temporary jobs, and more. The gig economy is now a bona-fide part of the global work landscape and it’s critical that we understand how to accommodate the workers, how this type of work affects the global economy at large, and the benefits and setbacks gig jobs bring.
A Gallup report titled “The Gig Economy and Alternative Work Arrangements” sets to do just that: understand the changing landscape of our workforce. Gallup estimated that as much as 36% of our workforce is engaged in gig work in some capacity. This number is much higher than what other studies, including those conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, have previously predicted. The reason for this disparity? According to Gallup, the nature of gig work is temporary and transient, making it difficult to fully grasp. There are also discrepancies in the terminology used to describe gig work, causing it to be underestimated in many studies. Gallup’s surprising findings show that the gig economy is growing, and is shaping the future of the workforce.
Another surprising outcome of this report is that baby boomers are more involved in gig work than Gen Xers or millenials, and they are more likely to be involved in gig work out of preference, compared to the other generations who are involved in nontraditional work out of necessity. Of course, technological and economic changes will continue to cause more people to engage in nontraditional work out of necessity.
Not all gigs are the same. Gallup’s report makes an important distinction between independent and contingent gig workers, as these workers experience gig work differently and have different needs. Independent gig workers may include freelance workers and online-based workers (i.e. a graphic designer or delivery driver), while contingent workers may include on-call or temporary workers (i.e. a substitute teacher or temporary data-entry specialist). Both types of gig workers are likely to work less than full-time, are less likely to be doing their preferred work, and are less likely to view their job as a lifelong career than their traditional working counterparts.
To conduct this research, Gallup used an index of 12 aspects to measure the employee experience, including work-life balance, meaningful feedback, flexibility, pay, and autonomy. Within these distinctions, independent and contingent gig workers have different work experiences. Independent gig workers are more likely to feel they have autonomy, receive meaningful feedback, and have more flexibility. While contingent workers are more likely to be paid accurately and in a timely manner, they reported having less autonomy, less creativity, and less meaningful feedback. Contingent workers tend to feel like regular employees without the freedom or benefits.
There are other challenges that accompany nontraditional workers in the workplace. Since gig workers are typically temporary or a part of a contractual agreement, there can be a disconnect with the employee, the management, and with the rest of the team. To combat this, Gallup suggests that it may be helpful for management to have extra training to accommodate the needs of gig workers. It is important that management ensures the gig worker understands the mission and goals of the company and feels that they are a valued member of the team, even if they are there temporarily. Despite some of these drawbacks, there are benefits to nontraditional workers. Some of these benefits include the ability to hire someone with expertise for a specific project, eliminating the risk of a costly bad hire, and being able to expand or decrease the workforce according to client or market demand.
As our workforce evolves and shifts, it is important for managers, business owners, policy makers, and gig workers themselves to understand the role of nontraditional work in our economy, the diverse needs of different workers in the workplace, and ways to combat challenges that nontraditional work may bring.