And the novel forms of modern work it is introducing are becoming so commonplace that they are either supplements to, or are entirely supplanting, the traditional, salaried, 9-to-5 job. So just what constitutes modern-day work in the gig economy, a term now synonymous with millennials?
Rise of gig economics
It is a germinal, yet rather simple idea: work with no boss per se and without the cumbersome in-office dynamics. At the heart of it all is somewhat randomized, somewhat lucrative contract-employment that is neither full-time nor part-time and is mediated by a digital platform — work’s modern-day iteration. Think Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Airbnb, Seamless and more. Such a new sector is ostensibly the panacea to an ailing labor market. For those neophytes to the gig economy, unlike the quarter of Americans already employed under it, one thing is clear: it’s here to stay. All the abounding digital employment platforms readily available at a swipe will crystallize the gig economy’s future that is going to get bigger by 2021 and beyond.
In an age of hyper-connectivity, employability, however contingent, is just one click away and always on-demand in the digital marketplace of the gig economy. Work is thus envisioned anew, zero-houred and to be completed piecemeal, all on one’s clock, from one project to the next. Work will be untethered to a single space, and its arrangements reconfigured. And, of course, as the doldrums of traditional work are dispensed with, it will be fun, as indicated by 42 percent of the currently gig-working Americans in a survey by the Pew Research Center.
All work, and all play?
A report by Intuit and Emergent Research estimates that in four years, gig workers will make up nearly 43 percent of all American workers and surpass the numbers of those in major industries, its disruptor. A game changer for the workforce, the gig economy will no longer be just a thing of start-ups. Its prospective future includes integration into some of the world’s largest companies, too, as various platforms, from labor to capital platforms and to others, continue to emerge as viable professional outlets in the digital marketplace. It also provides the highly coveted ongoing access to new, fresh talent, a source of knowledge transfer that experts say “facilitates knowledge creation.”
But there are drawbacks, likely to heighten over time as corporate values shift vis-à-vis the gig economy.
The added-on advantages of the gig-working life also pose a preponderance of challenges to the 21st century worker who will be without W-2 status, without a 401(k) and bonuses, without healthcare and medical leave, among other benefits. Yet for all the portentous loss of formal employment perks, the widespread predilection for the gig economy is not diminishing. The gig economy is still too great a source of cultural value for both the 21st century worker and (perhaps moreso) the employer.
Can working in the gig economy work?
There is a prevailing cultural norm favoring the gig economy that has snowballed over time, that has also been politically and legally consequential. A gig worker’s income is still too irregular, too contingent upon a great many factors, such as the frequency of assignments or a truncated employment period, or too low of a wage. Without a shadow of a doubt, these imperfections will not stand up to scrutiny in court.
Mitigating the shortcomings of the gig economy will be the only way to ensure it for posterity as a tenable career option.
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