Depending on whom you ask, the gig economy is either booming or is a catchy headline that marketing folks love to harness. The term “gig” came into vogue during the Great Recession even though the prevalence of independent workers has been with us since before the Industrial Revolution.
The peak of the U.S. gig economy appears to have occurred in 2005, according to an extensive survey of nontraditional work released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in June 2018. Alternative work arrangements — which include independent contractors, on-call workers and people working for third-party contractors — dropped from 10.7% in 2005 to 10.1% in 2017, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor. But the BLS survey did not reﬂect side jobs (e.g., Lyft and Uber drivers).
On the ﬂip side of the incongruent data, there’s a rise in freelancers (about 36% of the U.S. workforce) and a demographic shift in contingent workers — Americans ages 55 and older made up larger shares of independent contractors in 2017 than in 2005. Moreover, it’s the actual work that people are doing that has organizations taking a closer, more qualitative look at their relationship with the gig worker.
This month’s cover package, “Making Sense of the Gig Effect,” examines the jagged trajectory of the gig economy and the ever expanding scope of the employee value proposition. It too speaks to the signiﬁcance of motivating, engaging and recognizing the gig worker as you would any valued team member.
BLS data aside, it doesn’t much matter how you deﬁne a gig, indie or freelance worker — be it someone who’s working a part-time side gig to supplement his income or save for her retirement, or a full-time third-party consultant whose contract is up for renewal. What matters is that you treat “the outsider” like an “insider” when it comes to job parameters, project successes and program failures. What matters is that the gig worker is not an afterthought in the design, implementation and management of a rewards program.
Some employers may look at today’s productive gigster as tomorrow’s treasured employee. But HR needs to rethink and redeﬁne the work experience, as discussed in Seeing the Gig Picture. HR needs to re-envision a nimble and ﬂuid work environment that supports a broad and nonlinear talent network.
Many black-and-white issues (concrete, indisputable) have become gray (uncertain, arguable). In a similar vein, the line between employees and contingent workers has blurred. While we’d prefer knowing whether the gig economy is in fact growing or shrinking, the undeniable reality is that it’s changing how work gets done.
Those who reward and engage the workforce — and compete for talent — may need to adopt a new motto in these disruptive times: Go gig or go home.