The gig economy is growing and bringing a host of new challenges. One such challenge centres around how organisations can maintain engagement when it is increasingly difficult for employees and managers to build relationships, team ethics and stronger cultures with so many giggers entering then leaving the workforce.
What is gigging?
The gig economy’s a working environment where contingent work and temporary positions are common. The term’s often been used in the context of some lower paid roles – think Uber or pizza delivery drivers – but they don’t exclusively dominate this rapidly emerging sector. Someone who works in the gig economy – a ‘gigger’ – is any kind of independent worker who’s used for short-term engagements on a non-permanent basis and that includes highly skilled workers.
The gig economy’s been slowly evolving over the past two to three decades as increasing numbers of these kinds of workers entered the workplace. Up until now they went by other names: contractors, interim managers, freelancers, independent professionals, temporary contract workers, independent contractors, consultants. A combination of factors – the rise of technology, customers expecting goods and services to arrive quickly and flexibly, the global recession, workers seeking work opportunities that offer greater flexibility and variety – has led to its acceleration.
Traditionally gig workers have been a section of workforce that have been ignored when it comes to employee recognition. That’s fair enough – they’re not employees after all. Despite some HR professionals recognising it could be a beneficial thing to do, it has just been too difficult and complex to justify the effort. Obstacles like tax implications and putting giggers into HR systems that weren’t set up for non-permanent labour means it has been a challenge that ended up being put in the ‘too difficult’ basket.
What does the near future of the gig economy look like?
However as this report from EY shows the role of the gigger is growing. 50% of organisations have increased their use of contingent workers over the last five years. The US contingent workforce has grown by 66% in the past decade. There’s been a 28% increase in the number of self-employed workers in the UK over the same time period.
It doesn’t look like this is a passing trend either. There’s some variation in how a gigger’s defined but whichever way you look at it, it appears that they’re here to stay. On average, by 2020, almost one in five US workers will be contingent. Include part-time workers and as much as 50% of the workforce could be in non-permanent employment by 2020.
Do we need to start recognising giggers?
Using giggers has obvious benefits for a company: flexibility, responsiveness, cost management, an ability to bring in bespoke skills as and when needed. But this kind of relationship has its own unique set of challenges. Creating the relationship and then managing it takes effort. The impact of giggers needs managing from the perspective of their impact on the rest of the team. What can be done to incorporate them into a team or working environment so it’s not disruptive to people around them? Could one solution come from including giggers in recognition programmes?
Managing the gigger’s impact on the rest of the workforce
One of the biggest reasons for embracing giggers in recognition programmes is, ironically, not the giggers themselves. It’s about nurturing their relationship with permanent employees and managers. It’s about helping giggers become part of the culture rather than disrupt it. If giggers don’t fit in with the ethos and values of the company it’s going to send out negative messages to other employees. That may end up with those employees questioning a perceived double standard?
Making the gigger part of the team
Employment status doesn’t remove the innate need to feel connected with others. That’s important from a team dynamic perspective for all team members, whether permanent or contingent. Whether they’re working remotely or in company premises, giggers still want to feel part of the team and overall team morale will be negatively affected if they aren’t. Bad for giggers, bad for other team members. According to the EY report, giggers want to feel they belong; the move away from hierarchy and financial led recognition makes it far simpler to recognise them and make them feel and act like part of the team.
Improving overall performance
The report suggests that contingent workers might not feel as motivated as permanent employees. It also highlights the fact that effective approaches to managing the relationship between giggers and organisations have a way to go. Could recognition help?
Potentially, it could provide closer ties to help giggers understand how the company they’re engaged with works. Recognition delivers insights into both a workplace’s culture along with the more intangible aspects of a business that are harder to see from a distance. Up until now ‘ownership’ of a gig worker has been fairly hazy and performance measurement’s been based on some pretty crude metrics like completion of work against agreed timescales. From the company’s viewpoint recognition can provide insights into a gigger’s performance and suitability.
Recruiting the right gigger
Traditionally there’s been far less emphasis on recruitment of giggers but as they start to make up a larger proportion of a business’ workforce, it becomes more critical that they are the right fit.
As is the case with any other form of recruitment, the good ones are more sought after and companies need to find ways of attracting them. Giggers are looking carefully at who they might work for. Having the freedom to pick and choose is a benefit. However it’s balanced against the fact they don’t have the luxury of an onboarding process.
They need to do their homework to know whether the fit is right and that they will be able to hit the ground running. They might not be an employee but a company’s EVP will interest them as they look out for social proof about a company that wants to use their services. Recognition’s a very good way of telling people outside the organisation what it’s like to be involved with it.
The good news is some of the traditional recognition challenges are disappearing
Time and activity perks that have no material value are becoming standard for many organisations. That means giggers can be included without any tax issues. Social recognition is also removing hierarchies where desired. The traditional burdens of manager sign-offs and cost centre approval are fading away.
That allows giggers to seamlessly join in and become part of the company culture. Don’t underestimate the implications of that. Just because an individual’s used to flying solo and enjoys the freedom to pick and choose, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be included.