Perspectives On Work

Gigged Out

An emerging workforce in pursuit of stability

New research from Cake & Arrow examines how Covid-19 is changing the gig economy and what this means for insurance. Review their full analysis here.

The pandemic finally put to rest a myth about the Gig Economy that’s been peddled for more than a decade. Following quick on the heels of the 2008 financial crisis, a “new” labor paradigm took shape.

Occasioned by record-breaking unemployment and unleashed by advances in smartphone technology, the Gig Economy gave workers new and streamlined ways to find and book work and monetize assets in place of or in addition to traditional employment.

 

The Myth

Sold to workers as a means of unshackling them from the constraints of full-time employment, the Gig Economy promised to rush in a new era of worker flexibility, freedom, and autonomy empowered by technology.

The Gig Is Up

Just as the prognosticators warned a decade ago, the Gig Economy is not all it’s cracked up to be. The last decade has seen gig work slowly unmasked and exposed for what it truly is, with the pandemic quashing any lingering optimism as the bottom fell out for millions of gig workers when the pandemic struck.

The Truth

In reality, the rise of the gig economy has left millions of workers highly vulnerable, overexposed to risk and competing for ever-diminishing wages. It took a pandemic to fully expose how vulnerable gig workers truly are.

Contradicting the popular mythology, Cake & Arrow’s 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 and 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 and 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.

For better or worse, the pandemic has upended even traditional full-time work, thrusting more and more people into an experience not unlike that of a gig worker...

And now that millions can work remotely from their homes, everyone looks a little like a gig worker.

We’re All Gig Workers Now

The pandemic has made everyone a little more like a gig worker.

For better or worse, the pandemic has upended even traditional full-time work, thrusting more and more people into an experience not unlike that of a gig worker – giving many a taste of the freedom and flexibility of gig work, while also making everyone feel a little more vulnerable.

For traditional workers:

  • Employment feels less secure

1/3 of Americans are worried about having their work hours cut or losing their jobs.

  • Personal risk and responsibility of work looms larger

Remote workers are expected to have their homes double as offices, with all of the expense and inconvenience this entails, while those who must continue their work in person do so at the risk of their health and that of their families.

  • The lines between business and personal are blurring

As people’s homes become their offices and the responsibilities of family and work overlap, the professional and the personal become fluid.

  • Work is more flexible

With 33% of all workers now exclusively working remotely, it is now easier for some to live in different places, to work alternative schedules and to accommodate the needs of their families, their health or other responsibilities.

Weaving A New Net

The post-pandemic world will demand that we reevaluate what systems and structures outside of employment might better support people in the midst of uncertainty.

As the pandemic carries on, it’s clear that in all likelihood, life will continue to feel less predictable and employment less secure for everyone. This, perhaps, will create renewed urgency around developing novel systems and support structures for people as they seek to achieve a sense of stability and security in their lives, even amidst uncertainty.

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it has shown us that employers do not necessarily play the central role we imagine them to. We all exist within a complex network of interdependencies that extend well beyond our employers – to our communities, or families, our identities, etc..

Yet access to the kinds of stabilizing structures so important in people’s lives right now (ie. insurance and other types of benefits) continues to exist primarily through an employer, but also through a certain type of employment – one which is becoming increasingly hard to come by.

While fully addressing this issue may be a matter of structural change, in the shorter term can private industry find ways to weave the kinds of stability and security we get from full-time employment into our existing networks of interdependencies?

Five things businesses can start doing today:

1.) Forget What You Thought You Knew

Stop treating gig workers as a niche market, but instead as representing a realignment in terms of how people are working and living

2.) Step In And Step Up

Use this understanding to identify new risks, needs and opportunities that correspond with new and emerging ways of living and working. Expand core products and offerings accordingly.

3.) Learn Their Love Language

Position risk mitigation products as something other than “insurance.” People don’t like insurance, and most don’t think of it as something that protects them.

4.) Advocate & Educate

Empower your customers to see themselves as entrepreneurs. Consider it your job to help them feel entitled to the kinds of protection and support traditionally provided by employers.

5.) Be An Ally

Build solidarity amongst workers—help them organize and advocate for themselves. Work with them to better serve their needs.