Is the gig economy a threat to the modern workplace?

Freelancers and gig workers are taking over the future of work

11Oct

In 2018, more than one in three workers are involved in some form of freelance work or have a "gig", either as full-time work or as a side venture. It provides a level of flexibility and self-control in an economy which is currently quite robust. Many are also using it as a failsafe to fund additional purchases and even retirement – as many fear that freelancing will not support them enough to retire comfortably.

It is an even starker outlook in the US, where predictions have half of US workers in a freelance vocation by 2020.

The reasons behind this trend are many and they are only matched by the number of complications also presented by this form of working life. For traditional employers, the threat of the growing flexible workforce is a real issue. As such, here is a look at the growing threat of a more mobile workforce and why it is becoming so prevalent in the first place.

Changing attitude to work

Millennials have developed a very rapid change when it comes to their attitude to work. Freelance has become the ideal solution to a generation who wishes to place working below other priorities in their lives. A flexible schedule, in fact, is cited as the number one reason that many freelancers choose this work vocation.

And, in fact, it is not just millennials. Older workers are also leveraging their experience to become "consultants" as well as freelancers, presumably in order to enjoy the same flexibility that the younger generation is seeking. This enables more time for travel, quality time with family, working from home and even the avoidance of the typical office politics.

On a less practical side, the flexibility of the gig economy allows people to choose companies and even projects which may simply be more appealing to them. As people become more selective of the companies they wish to associate with, the importance of choice grows. Many people are simply choosing to not work for companies.


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An employers' folly

Many modern employers are choosing to outsource work to remote freelancers or gig employees. In fact, almost two-thirds of large companies are using gig workers to lower labor costs across their business. The same companies that then, somewhat ironically, bemoan how hard it is to find permanent skilled workers.

Technological advances also mean that it does not necessarily make sense to not have remote employees. Especially when it allows for major growth to a company's talent pool. A fact which is supported when as many of half of the companies hiring freelancers, or seeking a remote workforce, are doing so in order to draw on talent unavailable in their current structure.

So, if many employers who complain about this growing gig economy actually contribute to it, is there a happy medium to be found?

A flexible downside

The price of flexibility is not one absent of downsides, however. After all, every freelancer has a story of a company who chooses to underpay, not pay them at all or expect much more work than is reasonable. Who protects the freelancer or gig worker in these scenarios?

Another issue is also raised when it comes to flexibility, as many employers do use the gig economy to cut costs. But, is this fair to these gig workers? In some cases, they even transfer risk and liability to the worker which is to their detriment (as they are less likely to be able to afford to defend any action taken against them). A legal grey area that many freelancers struggle with as they are not afforded the same rights as an employee would be. There has been a rising surge in cases for contentious probate solicitors due to this very fact.

The fact is that the gig economy means many works whilst sick, complete many hours of unpaid overtime and have no chance of a paid holiday throughout the year. Any workers rights or protections are seemingly lost in favor of flexibility.

Final thoughts...

At the end of the day, the shift to a more remote workforce is something which almost seems inevitable. Especially given the uncertainty of an economy surrounding certain politics – both in the UK and US – as many people are preferring to carve their own path in these circumstances. The fact is that the evolution of work is inevitable and both employees and employers need to adapt to this new reality in order to function properly moving forward.

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