The gig economy. Short-term fix or long-term problem?


The gig economy has attracted a lot of attention recently, however, this form of working is not new. Part-time and flexible working  has been expressed in a variety of different careers from as far back as the 1970s. Several different career theories including the Portfolio, intelligent, protean and boundaryless career theories have attempted to describe new employment relationships. Employment relationships increasingly incorporate more flexible, part-time and include contract roles that are non-hierarchical;  very similar to the work characterised in the gig economy. However, is this form of working liberating or restricting?

What is the gig economy?

The gig economy has been defined as a way of working that based on temporary or small paid pieces of work or projects, also known as gigs. The gig economy and theories mentioned above emphasise flexibility, freedom and an ability to work whilst developing unique skills and or knowledge. Companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo have sprung up and use an ever growing stream of self-employed workers to provide services like delivery, driving and hospitality. Other sites such as Upwork, People per Hour and Freelancer allow individuals to offer their services and connect with organisations or people who have projects. The use of technology especially mobile applications and websites has made this form of employment accessible and flexible to both individuals and organisations.

The spread of the gig economy

According to a 2016 ONS survey, there has been a growth in part-time self-employment, expanding 88% between 2000 and 2015. Additionally, 10% of the workforce are identified as working in the gig economy according to a TUC report (2016).

Despite the rapid growth working in this new way, there do appear to be some negatives. For example,  some say that the gig economy promotes a reduction of steady, long-term employment. That short-term ‘gig work’ reduces upward promotion and can be characterised by individuals fleeting between one gig and the next.

Others state that an additional downside is that this form of employment is said to prey on some of the most vulnerable members of society. As workers are self-employed or sole traders there is no emphasis on employment rights in many of the roles and ‘gig’s’. In a landmark case in October 2016, brought by two Uber drivers on behalf of 19 others, it was ruled that they should be treated as employees. Therefore Uber should provide guaranteed employment rights such as a national living wage, sick pay and holiday pay.

Despite these negative aspects of the gig economy, there arepablo-47 positives. The gig economy offers flexibility and freedom for those searching for work to fit around other commitments.  Students, parents and anyone who has a hobby that they want to monetise can connect with organisations and engage in work.

With several reports of some gig economy workers being exploited and treated unfairly, government interventions are needed to ensure that this workforce is treated well, developed and catered for as much as possible. For others, the gig economy signifies a great way to earn money, develop skills and increase exposure to other professions and organisations.

In the short-term, the gig economy can bridge certain skills shortages but it is not necessarily a long-term solution.  The gig economy is liberating for many but can become a prison for others.  This form of working is probably set to increase in the coming years so a balance is needed to help all that chose to engage in this form of employment.