Gig economy workers boost more than a quarter of UK SMEs

Gig workers are employed at more than a quarter of UK SMEs, according to a new study, even though the majority of entrepreneurs fear the potential insecurity gig economy work can bring for both workers and businesses.

More than a quarter of small and medium-sized businesses in the UK have employed at least one gig economy worker – a worker with one or more short term contracts or doing freelance work – in the last 12 months.

This according to the latest Zurich SME Risk Index, which surveyed over 1,000 British small and medium sized businesses, employing less than 250 employees.

Of those decision makers that have employed gig economy workers in the last 12 months, 70 per cent believe that gig economy workers are important to their company’s profitability.

One in ten of these decision makers reported that gig economy workers make up 90 per cent of their workforce or more, while 41 per cent report that gig economy workers make up at least a quarter of the workforce.

When asked to describe gig economy working practices from the perspective of a worker, 58 per cent stated that they believed the gig economy provided flexibility for workers, while more than a third said that gig economy work provided new opportunities for workers and was time efficient. Nearly two in five thought it created greater opportunity to better manage workforce capacity.

The findings come just days before the deadline for submission of evidence to the Taylor review, which will look to investigate possible reforms in modern employment practices in the UK.

The survey also shows that SME decision makers are conscious of the risks for gig economy workers, as well as the benefits. When asked to select as many risks as were appropriate, more than half agreed that gig economy work lacks security, while more than a quarter believe it can be exploitative and a fifth are of the opinion that the arrangement can be unfair on workers.

“With so many UK SMEs employing gig economy workers, it would be a mistake to characterise the entire gig economy as an exploitative tool that only benefits employers,” says Paul Tombs, head of SME proposition at Zurich.”Self-employment is on the rise and demonstrates an increasing demand for flexible work which is beginning to shape the way that businesses think about workforce management.”

40 per cent of SME owners reported concerns that gig economy work can create a less dedicated workforce and almost a third agreed that it can create a less motivated workforce.

“While politicians and the media voice concerns that gig economy work is about maximising profits and manipulating staff, when we speak to business owners, it is clear that the majority associate it with flexibility and opportunity,” adds Zurich’s Tombs. “If the gig economy has sprung up as an imperfect solution to the increasing demand for flexible work, then a review of the system should focus on reforms that maximise the benefits for all parties rather than descending into a blame game.”

See also: Will the gig economy replace the job for life?

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.