The dark side of the Gig Economy

Picture1Oh, yes! There is a dark side. But you know that already, don’t you? While most optimistic Gig Economy enthusiasts would like the world to be dominated by “Gigglers” by 2020, I think we are a long way from getting there. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the concept of multiple gigs and multiple careers at the same time. However, someone needs to talk about what could go wrong and somehow, that is usually me.

Let’s take a quick look at why everyone is taking about the Gig Economy before I jump in with my concerns. Earlier in May this year, Intuit CEO Brad Smith said “The gig economy…is now estimated to be about 34% of the workforce and expected to be 43% by the year 2020.” In October 2016, the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution came out with a study that claimed, “Employment in the gig economy is growing far faster than traditional payroll employment.” Gig Economy is not new, however, given the rate of growth in “Gigglers” (I quite like the term) it has caught eyeballs. Companies like Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit have contributed to this phenomenon in a big way.

‘Gigs’ work fantastically well when the job has a well-defined scope, doesn’t deal with large ambiguity and doesn’t require collaboration. However, it may fail in taking over some jobs. While the world is ready for Gigglers, it still hasn’t sorted out some important aspects.

  1. Anxiety: Let’s start with the most obvious and the most talked about drawback. Living the life of a contract worker, now Giggler, isn’t easy. You live under the constant anxiety of wondering where your next gig will come from. Take away the safety net of a regular paycheck and one has to wonder if we are creating a new lifestyle disease. Organizations provide a safety net in the form of a regular paycheck. Take that away and the anxiety levels of the world is likely to shoot. It’s much like Thomas Friedman said – “Jump off an 80-story building, and for 79 floors down you can make believe you’re flying. But that last floor is a killer.” When you’re on a roll with gigs coming one after the other, you’re on a high but when they dry out, you’re in for trouble.
  2. Legislature: Do you know the second reason why the gig economy is in the news so often? Lawsuits. Any professional will tell you that the laws are generations behind especially when it comes to dealing with incumbents of the gig economy. Misclassification of employees is the single biggest challenge organizations face today. Lawsuits filed by Uber drivers are case in point. Besides, contractual workers don’t get a lot of benefits that regular employees do. Then there is also the question of who is held responsible for minimum wage is a Giggler holds multiple gigs at the same time. While there is hope that the laws catch up, it will take time. Till then organizations need to do their bit in exploring options including portable benefits.
  3. Collaboration: Don’t even get me started on this. We already struggle with this. We’ve tried eliminating ratings, buildings open workspaces and collaboration platforms yet we’re far from ideal. This became even more challenging with virtual and remote workers. Now with Gigglers, we’re probably only going to get worse at communication and collaboration. Besides, we know that great ideas emerge when great minds collide. How are we creating to the collision course? And that brings me to my last point.
  4. Innovation: What happens to innovation when each Giggler is focused on delivered the task at hand well, ensuring the chance of a repeat gig and stressing about where the next gig is going to come from? Highly likely that they lose the mind space and cannot afford the luxury of taking time to sit back and mull over the next big idea. Organizations currently invest in innovations and provide the safe space to fail. I think the gig economy is not kind to failure. Then there’s also the question of IP. All in all, innovation may just end up being adversely impacted if the Gig economy does take over.

What the ‘gig economy’ does is question the very basis of firms. I love when existing concepts are challenged and when things change as fast as they do in our world; it gets difficult to predict the future. Organizations must definitely experiment with bringing in Gigglers into the workspace. It isn’t a one way door. We may realize that a blended workspace works best and may discover the right blend. We’ll never know unless we try. After all, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Of course, some may argue that you don’t miss if you never take the shot. Let’s ignore those technicalities.



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