Ignore the gig economy at your peril: The rise of the freelancer

An increasing demand for flexible working for employees sees the rise in the gig economy. Ignore them and you may just miss out on their talent.

Employers beware. Are you struggling to find the right talent for a few projects in your company? Are funds and low recruitment outreach holding you back? These problems can be easily solved by dipping into the gig economy for talent and planning.

Alexander Mann Solutions urges businesses to pay attention to the current shift in worker mentality that is slowly moving towards a gig focus.

Mercer’s 2017 Global Talent Trends Study, showed that more than three quarters of full-time employees are considering taking the plunge into the gig economy, highlighting a remarkable change in worker expectation.

There is no more opportunity to hide under a rock; most HR leaders still dont expect the gig economy to significantly impact them over the next few years but flexible and approachable work is increasingly part of the worker motivation, particularly with the younger generations.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, over the last decade the number of self-employed workers in the UK has surged from 3.8 million to nearly 4.7 million. This influx of freelancers looking to take work off your hands should be considered an obvious opportunity for the busy business leader.

Lisa Forrest, global head of internal talent acquisition, at Alexander Mann Solutions, said, “As Mercer’s study shows, the disconnect between the intentions of employees and business leaders around the rise of contracting as a career choice is stark. Consequently, organisations which do not recognise the rise of the flexible workforce risk finding themselves in a situation where they are unable to access the skills their business needs to thrive.

“The rise of the ‘gig-economy’ is encouraging a more ‘Uber-esque’ approach to recruitment – and workforce planning strategies must respond to reflect this. Employers who embrace the rise of the flexible workforce will benefit from being in a position to bring on board specialist skills to help manage demand without the burden of permanent headcount costs. Those who ignore the rise of the gig-economy do so at commercial risk.”

Many smaller businesses are already heavily reliant upon flexible workers, as it allows them to focus their efforts on sales and growth rather than tasks that can easily be outsourced to a capable freelancer.

If you pay attention to the rumblings of companies like Uber and Deliveroo exploiting their staff with unreasonable hours and pay for hard work you might be sceptical that the gig economy will flourish. But Paul Tombs, head of SME proposition at Zurich, thinks that we need to quit playing the blame game and utilise this resource.

Tombs said, “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. 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.

“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. 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.”

The controversy plaguing some companies is contrasted with the rise of sites like People per Hour, Fiverr and Freelancer, where workers can name their own price for doing tasks they want to do, as well as a whole host of MLM opportunities, auction sites and internet businesses which enable almost anyone to become self employed quickly and with the minimum of hassle. For many, the gig economy promises more options and more freedom – but it’s not all utopia.

Flexible working commentator Adrian Lewis from Activ Absence cautions: “For employees of businesses who haven’t embraced flexible working, a ‘gig’ employer could seem attractive. Gig employers claim freedom and flexibility, ‘choose your hours, choose your role, work more family friendly hours, and achieve that all important ‘work-life-balance’ everyone talks about’.

“However, there are down sides to working ‘gigs’ rather than a job – the hassle of keeping accounts, unstable hours, the fact that flexibility for gig employers works both ways and the reality is that financial pressures could see gig workers having to take gigs they really don’t want to in order to pay the bills. It’s not all utopia.

“However, software like Activ Absence can enable employers to make that work-life balance possible, by delivering the visibility they need to manage home workers. It’s not possible for every job, but for those who can, flexible working offers a stable salary, agreed hours and can prove a far better option for employees. Employers can compete with the gig economy – but if they ignore flexible working options, they risk losing talent to the companies or ‘gigs’ that offer them.”

See also: Gig economy workers boost more than a quarter of UK SMEs

Owen Gough

Owen Gough

Owen Gough is a reporter for SmallBusiness.co.uk. He has a background in small business marketing strategies and is responsible for writing content on subjects ranging from small business finance to technology...

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Gig Economy