To Gig, Or Not to Gig

I asked Zarir Erani, President of Allen Interactions, about the outlook for gig work from the perspective of employers. Allen Interactions works with clients to create meaningful, memorable, and motivational learning and performance experiences. Here’s what Erani had to say:

 “Due to digitization and technology, the world is more closely connected. This makes it much easier for people with unique talents to secure work when they want and possibly from multiple sources.

“According to an Intuit study, by 2020 it is highly likely that 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors in one way or another. The idea of ME, Inc. is perhaps the new American dream and quite possibly the global dream.  The criticality and risk within this new workforce is a company’s ability to assess and train the individuals to ensure value.

“Startups and existing companies can benefit from this pool of talent by accessing their expertise and experience while avoiding long term cost commitments of salary, benefits and office overhead. This approach provides companies with much needed flexibility to weather fluctuating economic conditions, increasing productivity, and infusing external innovation. Furthermore, independent workers are highly concerned about their brand and reputation.  This may actually get more productivity and results by engaging them.”

Meanwhile, compared to their Boomer and Gen X parents, Erani explains that, “The Millennial and Generation Z populous is expecting more from life and more from work. These talented individuals are looking for schedule flexibility and multiple income streams. This may be due in part to the badges of success changing from material possessions to experiences. Something that is being reinforced by social platforms. People are no longer sharing the houses they live in or the cars they are driving.  They are sharing the experiences they are having; the concerts, vacations and adventures they are enjoying. Experiencing life requires schedule flexibility. The fact that wages have not really changed dramatically has led this group to also look for ways to supplement their income.” 

Benefits of independent workers (from an employer’s perspective):

•      For startups, gig workers provide cost savings, productivity and scalability as they may not be able to afford full time workers

•      For existing companies, gig workers bring subject matter expertise on demand without the risk of long-term employment contracts, providing flexibility

•      Having large portions of business possibly taken care of off-site means a leaner, more specialized employed staff and possible office space savings.

•      Flexible workforce for seasonal highs and lows, or to fulfill worker needs geographically dispersed from your core location.

•      To protect their brand, gig workers tend to be more efficient, creative, innovative, focused, and have greater initiative.

•      A great way to fill your talent gaps in Strategy, Implementation, or Operations is to leverage independent talent to supplement the work your employees are doing.  This allows you to benefit from their knowledge and expertise, while at the same time avoiding paying a full-time salary, plus benefits, and office overhead. 

•      Possible access to find and turn some of these highly effective workers into permanent employees with the right approach.

Working in the Gig Economy

My first two jobs as a post-college Millennial were traditionally structured. I was a retail assistant manager, and then worked for an insurance agent. I started experiencing serious burnout because I wasn’t in positions that best aligned with my gifts and values, and at the end of 2019 I left my “9-to-5” job to take a step back and reassess my career direction. I would love to say that I’ve got everything figured out, but the truth is that in the last 18 months I’ve had a wide variety of experiences in the gig economy and I’m still learning what I want the next steps in my career to look like. It didn’t help that there was a pandemic that started three months after I took that big step!

All this reminds me of one of the verses I hold to tightly: “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 NLT)

During that time, I worked part time at a coffee shop until it got shut down due to COVID-19, worked part-time at a college bookstore during their busy season, taught some English classes online, started a podcast, picked up a few clients for writing and editing services, and started doing work for Crossroads in June 2020, and started editing a friend’s podcast a few weeks ago. From experiencing the gig economy from the perspective of a worker, I can tell you about several benefits of this approach to work:

Flexibility and Choice: You get to choose what kind of work you do, for whom, when, and where. You’re your own boss and make all the decisions. You can choose work that best fits your values and skills. For me, since everything is done from my laptop, I can work anytime, anywhere. If I decide to run an errand during business hours or get coffee with a friend, I can work in the evening or do more the next day to make up for it. I don’t have to check with a boss to get time off.

Multiple Income Streams: Many financial experts are recommending having multiple streams of income, for the basic reason that if one lessens or dries up, you still have other options. You don’t have all your proverbial eggs in one basket.

Wider Range of Experiences: What other type of career lets you combine your skills and interests in such a customizable way? For me this week, I get to podcast and write about books, work with an organization that helps people at crossroads in their careers, edit leadership materials, and edit a podcast about speech and language pathology. The possibilities are endless.

Potential to be Paid More on a Per-hour Basis: Freelancers and gig-workers often get paid a higher per-hour rate for their work. For example, I make more money per hour on some of my gigs than I made during 3 hours of working at the coffee shop.

On the other hand, there are some challenges and risks to be aware of when it comes to gig work:

Uncertainty: The shadow side of flexibility is that work fluctuates and can be hard to predict and plan for. Gigs can be based on demand or contracts can end before others begin. Projects can get cancelled or rescheduled frequently.

Marketing Yourself: Creating a personal brand and communicating why you’re a valuable gig worker can be challenging and is something that most people not good at. Anytime you’re starting a new gig or picking up a new client, you have to re-articulate your value.

No Benefits: The responsibility for healthcare and retirement savings falls squarely on your shoulders, instead of being provided through your employer. This means when you set your rates and plan financially, these are things you need to keep in mind.

More Complex Taxes: Instead of having your taxes automatically withdrawn from each paycheck, you have to set aside money to pay taxes. If you have more than one gig, separate records must be kept for each income stream. The process to file taxes can be more complex with multiple income streams.

As you consider what your options are and move forward in your career, may this information and our gracious Lord bring clarity to your steps. Blessings!

Laura Miller works for Crossroads Career as a writer and editor, and lives in the Kansas City area with her accountant husband. Laura hosts and produces The Library Laura Podcast, which is a weekly dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm. She also hosts and produces the bi-weekly Crossroads Career Podcast. Previously, she worked in the insurance and retail industries.

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