Dispelling the myths around the gig economy

By Elizabeth Harmon April 28, 2018 at 12:09am

Businesses can often be anxious about change - and that’s exactly what the gig economy is driving.

The workforce has remained relatively constant for many generations, made up primarily of full-time or part-time, permanent workers.

However, the gig economy is bringing a new type of labour market for short-term contracts and freelance work. Instead of working 9-5 for one company, jobseekers can pick up a collection of “gigs” for several companies, sometimes all at the same time.

In Australia, research by Business Insider shows that casual workers now represent a fifth of the workforce, with figures only on the up.

So, what is driving this shift? Whilst many believe it’s as a result of millennials joining the workforce, it’s actually being driven by Gen Z (the iGeneration), Gen Y (also known as Millennials), Gen X and Baby Boomers, who are all striving for a work-life balance and more job flexibility.

Others suggest that due to an increase in unemployment (leading to job uncertainty) and a rise in the cost of living, workers may be seeking additional short-term contracts and freelance work to help supplement their employed incomes.

Businesses are also benefiting from the gig economy and so are driving the change too. By using temporary or contract workers, companies can see lower recruitment and staff costs, and enjoy greater flexibility, paying for extra help only as and when it’s needed.

As the gig economy is a relatively recent phenomenon, it’s common to misunderstand it, be sceptical about it, or be anxious about fully embracing it. It’s only natural for job hunters to be apprehensive about following a career path that is moving away from the ‘norm’.

For employers, it’s understandable that they can be wary about changing their complete outlook on recruitment and staffing. Plus, there’s the rights and entitlements of contract workers to consider.

The article shares some of the most common myths behind the gig economy and highlight the important truths that jobseekers and employers alike need to know:

1. The gig economy is just another fad

Whilst the “gig economy” term does seem to have sprung up in today’ job market, it certainly isn’t just another fad. The actual concept of using a contingent workforce has been around for many years, particularly in industries such as technology.

According to an independent survey commissioned by Robert Half, 92% of Australian CIOs plan to increase their temporary headcount in their company by an average of 21%.*

What the workforce is seeing now is that the number of short-term contracts and freelance work has started to increase, with Ernst & Young’s Contingent Workforce Study revealing that from the employers they surveyed, one in two have increased their use of contract workers over the last five years. And it’s not something that is going away any time soon either, as 40% of businesses expect to increase their use of temporary workers over the next five years.

2. Contract workers don’t truly care about the businesses they work for

It is reasonable perhaps to assume that someone who only works for a business on a temporary basis would not be invested in a company’s long-term success. But in reality, the opposite is often true. A contract worker is likely to be just as invested in a business’s success as a permanent member of staff, as they are professionals and a specialist in their field of expertise.

The short window of time working for a business means there is extra pressure to deliver, without the safety net of being employed as a permanent worker. In fact, you could say that due to the uncertainty of regular work, a contract worker may be even more invested in a business, as they would strive to secure repeat business.

3. Contract workers don’t care about their careers

It is easy to assume that someone who works on a contract basis might not really care about their future. But this is far from the truth. Temporary workers sometimes choose to break away from permanent employment so they can be their own boss and take complete control of their career path.

It can be challenging as a contract worker (especially without the security of a set salary, or a “job for life”), so those that tend to succeed are truly passionate about their career choice, motivated, driven and determined.

4. Contract workers would rather be employed

Whilst this may be true of a handful of people, the majority of temporary/contract workers make the decision to work in this way. Not only can a contract worker break free of the 5x5 office cubicle, they can make their own decisions and decide on their exact career path.

Being a contract worker also provides more flexibility. A survey of Australian casual and contract workers, revealed that 87% considered work-life balance to be the biggest driver for them.

5. The gig economy is for millennials

When one thinks of the gig economy, one might naturally think of tech-savvy millennials. But the reality is that people of any age are deciding to switch from employment to contract working. Research reveals that surprisingly, Baby Boomers are actually the most likely to become a casual or contract worker (63%), over even Gen Y (50%), or Gen X (52%). This may be due to the flexibility contract work provides.

Baby boomers can decide their workload and the times they work, fitting around their lifestyle and even their financial needs. It can also be a good way to stay working, whilst gradually easing into retirement.

What is next for the gig economy?

It’s certainly clear that the traditional workforce has changed, and the gig economy will play a big part in the future of the workforce.

But it’s also important for everyone to adapt to these changes, to ensure it continues to work for everyone. Governments need to ensure there are appropriate regulations in place, to help protect contract workers. Businesses need to implement systems and processes to allow them to effectively manage a mix of both traditional workers and contract workers. And education providers need to prepare students for this new way of project-based work, so they can fit more easily into this changing, “modern” workforce, as they leave education.

Elizabeth Harmon is a writer for Open Colleges, one of Australia’s leading online education providers. She discusses various subjects, including careers, business, and online marketing. Elizabeth is a Social Media Consultant with several years’ experience in the field. She has worked with a growing list of clients around the world, helping to build successful social media strategies, create effective content and much more.

*Source: Independent survey commissioned by Robert Half among 160 CIOs in Australia

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