Everyone is talking about the gig economy, and everyone, it seems, has an opinion. For some, it is a curse that has caused an upheaval in a perfectly fine system of employment, for others it is a breath of fresh air bringing alternative employment options to millions of skilled workers and flexibility to employers. Whatever the opinions though it is clear that the so-called ‘gig’ economy is here, if not to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. So, putting aside all the rhetoric and high-brow discussions, what does it actually mean for the workforce, and how will it affect them?
Before any consideration of how the gig economy will impact the workforce, we probably need to take a moment to consider the cultural change it brings. Essentially the rise in the use of temporary, contract and freelance workers means a fundamental shift in the way we consider working life. That is not to say that the gig economy has totally killed off the traditional 9 to 5 or full-time worker. It is still very much in the minority when it comes to working practices. That said, it is a large minority with some estimates announcing rather dramatically that over 4 million people in the UK are working in this way. This does depend on how you define the term, but there is certainly a very significant number of people who work in a non-permanent, gig-based, way. This creates a very different culture in the workplace and a challenge to many employers when that very workplace culture is often considered core to a successful business.
Lack of focus
The lack of a focus on permanence in some of the employees can be a challenge for the workforce. It is obviously more difficult to maintain a good team mentality when the team is constantly changing members. However, again here, in some industries, there is a history of the expectation of change for many reasons. Seasonal and project-based industries such as retail or construction, for example, have always relied on a changing roster of personnel to fill their shifting needs.
There are some real positives
There are undoubtedly some very real positives to a general shift to a less permanent and more project-focused workforce. For the employee, it opens up a range of opportunities. The prospect of being able to mix and match working hours, for example, or work in concentrated bursts to allow longer holiday periods or time to concentrate on family or even pastimes, is a tempting one. A gig economy worker is not tied to a single location and, subject to what happens in the next few months with Brexit, may even be able to ply their trade in Europe and beyond. Employers may well find themselves able to access high achievers in specific areas of need or be able to utilise skill sets they would otherwise find out of reach. Even though gig working is often financially higher paid than an old fashioned ‘steady job’, a bigger bill now can result in a completed job to a high standard and then the freedom of not having on-going costs.
A common sense approach
At the end of the day, the viability of working on a temporary contract or accepting a more traditional long-term working relationship for both the employee and the employer will come down to a common-sense approach to the problem. Starting with ‘is this a role that suites a gig approach’ from both sides and ending with rather hefty and somewhat esoteric questions such as ‘how will this affect my company culture’ or ‘what will this mean to my long-term career’.
As always, we are more than happy to talk through the pros and cons of the gig economy from both sides of the fence and help our clients and candidates make the right choices to help them navigate the right course.