Freelancers now comprise 15% of the UK workforce thanks to the influence of the gig economy, according to the Work and Pensions Committee. The Brookings Institution found that in the US, gig economy job growth out-paced regular jobs by 27%.
We’re beyond discussing the impact of early disruptors like Uber and Airbnb. It’s time to look at the new economic landscape. In particular, are employees rushing to be part of the gig economy or being pushed into it?
Freelance workers, part-time employees and zero hours contracts played a big part in boosting employment levels following the 2008 recession. They’ve also been a boon to employers looking to cut costs. A 2015 survey by Regus found that 58% of businesses reduced overheads in response to the recession, with 31% switching to more part-time staff. Factor in savings on office space and benefits and it’s easy to see why so many businesses leapt at the chance to join the gig economy.
However, critics soon pointed out that the same factors that make gigging attractive to employers can make it a nightmare for workers: no benefits, no job security, no set hours. There have been ongoing calls to ban or regulate this new work culture to prevent “appalling behaviour”– exploiting staff who feel they have to take a bad job over no job at all. So, does the gig economy exploit employees?
In July 2017 the government-commissioned review into modern employment practices was published, revealing that there’s no black-and-white answer. Some gig workers are pushed into it by circumstance, but others love their job.
After all, it’s not just employers who stand to gain from gigging- employees also seek flexibility. According to the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 18% more workers would stay in a job for over five years if it offers flexible working compared to if it doesn’t. Working outside the office has become more popular as employees face the challenge of finding affordable property near work or spend excessive time and money commuting, illustrated by research from the TUC.
No surprise, then, that Regus reports 61% of workers would switch jobs for one offering flexible working, and a UK government survey found 90% of people are happier with more control over working arrangements.
Agility and flexibility
The corporate need for lower costs and worker desire for more freedom aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re equally important drivers of the gig economy and business leaders are already trying to balance them for mutual benefit.
Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends report found 56% of companies are redesigning HR programmes to leverage digital and mobile tools. This is a major development, signalling a move towards engaging rather than just employing uncontracted workers.
Innovative software platforms drove the growth of the gig economy. Now they can use granular data and cloud storage to empower employers and engage workers whenever, wherever. Freelancers are here to stay and could mean a better experience for staff, bosses and customers alike.