Making the gig economy work for everyone

Katleen De Stobbeleir outlines how businesses can get the most from their temporary and flexible workforce

Though the notion of gig work has been around for a long time, the phrase ‘gig economy’ has really come to the fore in recent years, with much focus on this type of work both in businesses and in the media.  

The trend is powered by a growing desire for flexibility among individuals. While for organisations, having access to gig workers means they only have to hire people as and when they need their skills.

The arrangement can be very positive, but it also has its downsides and has been criticised. Gig economy work can be extremely precarious with many workers experiencing the stress of an unpredictable income, unpredictable schedules and feelings of isolation. 

Despite the negativity surrounding this, research suggests the gig economy is here to stay and is only going to increase. In fact, by 2025 it is predicted that 20 per cent of the EU workforce will be gig workers. So the question should not be whether we are in favour of the gig economy, but how can managers make it work for both organisations and individuals?

Colleagues not suppliers

Gig workers can bring an important outsider’s perspective, providing non-bias, fresh and critical advice to the organisation. However, they should not be treated as outsiders. Obviously, managers are unable to promote gig workers or make them employees of the month, however they should still be treated as colleagues. Gig workers have talents that are hard to find, so it may be even more difficult for managers to retain them, which presents a new challenge. A worthwhile task for instance would be to invite them to attend away days and other events, similar to permanent employees.

Networks and connections

Research shows that gig workers like to actively build networks and connections in order to thrive at work. Employees of a company have an automatic network to connect with, however gig workers do not have this and have to attempt to build it for themselves. It is important that managers facilitate building these networks which will benefit the organisation’s practices and also gig workers – giving them more connections which have a purpose for future work. These networks should look to help gig workers become better at their jobs, aid them in corporate training and mentoring and connect them with people relevant to future opportunities. 

Incorporate routines

Despite one of the main attractions of gig work being its flexibility, many gig workers actually prefer to seek routines in their work. In fact, many like to have a set location, set hours and a specific contract. The most successful gig workers choose to avoid as many distractions as possible by creating these stable workplaces and fixed working times, enabling them to maintain a better balance between work and personal life. As a manager working with gig workers, it is a good idea to create a dedicated workstation for them in order to create a routine. 

Set specific goals

It is important for managers to give gig workers goals just as they would with permanently contracted employees. Having an overarching goal ensures that gig workers take and create opportunities that will always enable them to reach their higher potential. As a manager of a gig worker, it can be useful to understand why these individuals work on a ‘gig’ basis, and set goals specific to their wants. This will ensure that gig workers are constantly working with a purpose and to achieve an end goal – keeping them as motivated as possible.

As gig work becomes more prominent, it is important that managers have a stronger focus on facilitating gig workers into their organisations, in order to benefit both the company and the individuals. Real leadership and guidance from managers is needed for this to happen, and managers need to show they actually care about the person, and not treat them as a disposable resource. From the gig workers’ perspective, it’s important to network, unite with people in similar positions, and have a collective voice. The gig economy must work productively and responsibly for all.

Katleen De Stobbeleir is professor of leadership at Vlerick Business School