In a healthy economy, everyone wins: Employers get reliable, engaged workers; workers get fair wages, benefits, and working conditions.
With that said, every economy has its growing pains. Supply and demand are difficult to balance, and imbalances can make one or both sides feel shortchanged.
As it grows, the gig economy is grappling with those imbalances. Solving them will take a concerted effort by employers, workers, and policy makers.
The best place to start? With a vision. A healthier gig economy would have:
- Endless Roles
The gig economy is all about choice. But if there aren’t enough opportunities to go around, workers are forced to take those that aren’t the right fit for them.
Finding enough work to make a living can be a struggle for some freelancers. A healthy gig economy would enable contractors to turn down jobs they don’t want to take.
The reality is, there are more people looking for work right now than there are jobs available. This imbalance is likely to be resolved as more employers jump into the gig economy.
- Unlimited Flexibility
The most popular reason people work in the gig economy is flexibility. Gig workers may put in as many hours as their traditionally employed peers, but they get to choose: Do they want to work weekends? Evenings?
Choosing when to work isn’t just convenient. By deciding when they do and don’t want to work, gig workers get to spend more time with family and exploring their hobbies. That also benefits employers by ensuring gig workers’ minds are on the job when they choose to work.
- Access to Benefits
The major area that the gig economy is lacking is benefits. Most contracted workers do not receive the same perks their traditionally employed peers do, which puts their health and financial security at risk.
Employers need to realize that offering gig workers benefits is a huge competitive advantage. Who wouldn’t choose employer-sponsored health insurance or 401(k) access over a small bump in pay? If the market won’t support that, then policymakers should step in.
- Inclusive Financial Systems
Aside from not having access to benefits, gig workers are often shut out of financial systems. Getting a home loan, for example, is notoriously difficult for the self-employed. When a large section of workers can’t build wealth, the wider economy suffers.
Here, lawmakers and lenders need to work together. Gig workers must be able to access credit not only to make big-ticket purchases, but to protect themselves from economic downturns.
- Fair and Competitive Income
For any economy to be healthy, it must deliver living wages to workers. Otherwise, those workers won’t be able to buy goods and services, which ultimately reduces the revenue of their employers.
If you’re an employer, put together a pay scale to reward skill-building and longevity. Give bonuses when workers go above and beyond. Not only will doing so improve contractors’ quality of work, but it’ll reduce turnover and build your brand reputation.
- Collective Bargaining
Unions are responsible for the five-day workweek that most traditional employees enjoy. They fought for fair wages, benefits, and safe working conditions.
Gig workers deserve all of those things. To secure them, however, they need to be able to engage in collective bargaining. Unions level the playing field with employers to ensure both sides treat the other fairly.
- Clearer Career Paths
Not many people attend school to become a gig worker. The reason isn’t that nobody wants to do gig work, but because there’s no established career path for most gig roles.
On this front, universities have a major role to play. Educational institutions exist to encourage curiosity and discovery: Why not expand entrepreneurial coursework to cover skills that are critical for gig work? Everything from finding gigs to filing quarterly taxes could be part of the curriculum.
Other majors must also be updated to accommodate the gig economy. Surely, writing courses could be tailored to the fact that many students will work as freelance content creators. Graphic design curriculum could include contests, which are standard fare on sites like 99Designs.
- Support for Boutique Services
Many consumers rely on major retailers for everything they buy. The trouble is, the typical Etsy seller can’t hope to compete with Amazon or Walmart. A healthy gig economy would carve out space for boutique goods and services.
The value is there: Freelance editors can catch errors and fulfill requests that autonomous services like Grammarly can’t. The issue is bottom-line thinking to the exclusion of all else: The cheapest, fastest solution is not always the right one.
- Better Hiring Platforms
Some gig workers are great at selling themselves. Especially in high-demand areas, such as software development, they don’t need help finding their next gig.
Many gig workers, however, are constantly searching for that next opportunity. Just like traditional employees do, they need platforms that make it easy to find work. Matching services, such as those that exist for high-tech roles, must be developed for low-skilled fields.
- More Mentorship
In traditional employment arrangements, mentorship is easy. Hierarchical structures point new hires to senior members of the team for career advice. Day-in-day-out contact with the same people makes it easy to forge lasting bonds.
Those dynamics are different for gig workers. Because many work in solo roles, they don’t have obvious mentorship opportunities. That makes it more difficult to climb the ladder of whatever field they work in.
- Mental Health Help
Due to loneliness, economic instability, and lack of a clear career path, many gig workers struggle with anxiety and other mental health issues. If the gig economy is to be healthy, then so must its workers.
Although paid health insurance is part of this picture, it’s not the whole story. Helplines, staffed by professionals who understand gig workers’ needs, should be set up. In the meantime, employers must be compassionate when workers need to take time off.
The gig economy isn’t perfect, but the solution isn’t to scrap it. A home with a leak isn’t torn down; it’s fixed.
Everyone has a part to play in that. Workers must be flexible not just with their hours, but with their employers. Employers need to exhibit empathy and compensate people fairly. And most importantly, society as a whole needs to recognize just how much work gets done by the gig economy.