The Evolution Of Work

Gigged Out: An Emerging Workforce In Pursuit Of Stability

How the pandemic is reshaping the world of work

Excerpts from a new study by the research firm Cake & Arrow looks at the emergence of new trends in work. Access the full report here.

The year 2020 made the plight of a gig worker much more familiar to a lot of people. As work becomes less stable for millions and access to healthcare and other employer-based benefits even more essential, is it time we reconsider what stability might look like for an emerging workforce?

A few years back, while working with an insurance carrier client of ours, we began to observe some interesting trends in the small commercial insurance space regarding the overlap of personal and commercial insurance needs. This observation set us off upon what has become a three-year-long journey to better understand the Gig Economy and the way that this emergent labor paradigm is not only upending traditional insurance models, but the way that millions of people pursue and achieve stability and security in their lives.

Since then we have spoken with thousands of gig workers, sole proprietors, owners of very small businesses and other unconventional workers. In doing so, we have uncovered insights and formed perspectives around how the plight of these unconventional workers might shape the way that businesses think about their customers and innovate for the future.

When the pandemic first struck, we knew–given the precarious nature of this type of work and the lack of support structures available– that these workers would be particularly vulnerable and we wanted to talk to them. So we launched a series of surveys, events, and research projects to discuss, learn, and gain insight into how some of the country’s more unconventional workers were coping amidst the pandemic.

The Gig Economy As A Microcosm Of The Future Workforce

Through the course of our research and inquiry, we watched as the pandemic shined a light on long-existing vulnerabilities among gig and other unconventional workers. As more and more people have been pushed out of traditional employment or found the terms of their labor drastically restructured by the pandemic, the risks, vulnerabilities, and even the appeal of gig and freelance work have become more mainstream and more relatable.

What the pandemic has made clear, and our research has borne out, is that looking at gig workers and others who operate outside of the traditional workforce as niche audiences is a mistake. Rather, these groups, while still a minority, represent larger trends that are fast shaping the future.

Contradicting the popular mythology, our research has found that gig workers:

  • Are Not Necessarily Platform Workers

Platform work makes up a small percentage of gig work but is nevertheless transforming the nature of work, turning workers into “entrepreneurs” and “users” and setting the terms of employment and labor for years to come.

  • Are Doing More For Less

As consumer demand for on-demand services goes up, more platforms emerge, drawing in more workers. More competition among platforms drives down prices for consumers and wages for workers, who are incentivized to do more work for less money.

  • Are Not Just Millennials

People of all ages do gig work, but Millennials make up the largest share of gig workers – just as they do the workforce at large.

  • Don’t Necessarily Do Gig Work Out of Choice

Framing gig work as a choice obfuscates the way that traditional full-time work can be elusive for many and unaccommodating to the realities of people’s lives.

  • Care About Stability & Security, Too

For gig workers, financial stability and security are prized above flexibility. Many who seek out gig work are attempting to have both, a feat which is becoming increasingly difficult amidst an economic recession.

Odd Jobs & Loose Ends

Over the past decade, employers have slowly retreated from the central role they once played in worker’s lives. What, if anything, will replace them?

As more and more people find themselves in unconventional work arrangements, the central role of the employer is diminishing, leaving millions in the lurch, unprepared and ill-equipped to achieve the kind of stability and security once promised by full-time employment.

In the US, employers have long been seen as the organizing principle in people’s lives– determining everything from where they live, how they plan their personal lives, and of course how they access insurance and other benefits.

Even before the pandemic, this employer-based framework failed to account for the millions who did not work traditional full-time jobs or were otherwise categorized as something other than an employee.

The pandemic has accelerated this trend, leaving some adrift and hustling to find alternatives to the benefits and supports afforded by full-time employment, and others no longer tethered to the traditional constraints of their work.

Read the full report: Gigged Out: An Emerging Workforce In Pursuit of Stability here.