How can we engage gig economy workers?

Baby boomers are 22% more likely to seek work with "gig" employers than millennials.
Baby boomers are 22% more likely to seek work with "gig" employers than millennials.

The gig economy is on the rise, with the Taylor review exploring how employment regulation and practices can keep pace with the changing world of work. How can employers motivate and engage people who work for their business but aren’t actually employed? Jenny Perkins from Cirrus offers some tips.

Although recent media coverage has led to a perception of gig workers as mostly young and relatively unskilled, research demonstrates that the reality is quite different.

Baby boomers (those born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s) are more likely to embrace gig working than any other generation. In fact, a study by job board Indeed found that they are 22% more likely than millennials to search for work with gig employers.

There is also a perception that the gig economy is centred around industry challengers such as Uber and Deliveroo. Again, the reality is different.

The majority of the recent growth in gig working since 2009 has taken place in lucrative sectors such as advertising and banking, and the gig economy is having a significant impact on large, established businesses.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that 15% of the British labour market is self-employed with an estimated 5 million people classified as gig workers.

ONS figures also show that 60% of self-employed people work in high-skilled managerial and professional roles. Gig economy workers generally only get paid for the “gigs” they do, whether that’s building a website or delivering a pizza.

Flexibility and control?

Of course, the unprecedented growth of the gig economy presents many challenges for workers and for business leaders. It does of course present opportunities too.

Advocates of the gig economy claim that both workers and organisations benefit from enhanced flexibility and greater control. While there has been criticism of gig workers’ lack of rights, there is also evidence to demonstrate that many enjoy the flexibility and choice that gig working provides.

In the past, contingent workers have often been viewed as an additional resource used by organisations to address labour and skills shortages when needed.

However, today’s gig workers can be central to business success. As part to the trend towards more mobile and virtual workforces, we are starting to see many more examples of effective integration where gig workers are an important component of the workforce.

As the gig economy continues to grow at a considerable pace, how can employers ensure their gig workers are engaged and productive, and become advocates for their brand? Here are some tips:

  • Treat them as people rather than as resources. This is the number one, most important thing you can do. No matter how transient the relationship, don’t just think of gig workers as flexible resources. Take time to communicate with them on a human level and get to know them.
  • Ensure your employee value proposition  is attractive and engaging to gig workers as well as employees. Think about what your organisation offers in return for their skills and experience. Articulate and communicate your EVP wherever gig workers are most likely to find you.
  • Streamline the way you contract with gig workers. EY research found that 31% of US organisations have multiple vendor management systems. Bureaucracy is a barrier to engagement, so introduce simple and clear processes.
  • Create an induction process for gig workers. The EY research found that 55% of contingent workers are not “onboarded”. Gig workers benefit from induction as much as employees do. Even a pared-down induction process can help them to understand your organisation’s purpose, culture and goals, and to become an integral part of your business. This also applies when you are rolling out new business initiatives. Ensure that you involve gig workers and take them on the journey with you.
  • Offer opportunities for learning and development. Your organisation-wide L&D strategy should consider the needs of gig workers and the benefits you will gain from developing their skills. Consider part-funding any relevant training, or offering other sources of support such as access to an online knowledge portal.
  • Harness innovationIBM research shows that independent workers are significantly more innovative than other employees. Researchers found that many successful organisations have established innovation teams that combine internal and external collaborators.
  • Use gig workers to catalyse change. Gig workers can be change agents, helping to highlight benefits to employed workers. They often bring fresh perspectives and can help overcome resistance to change within a legacy workforce. EY’s research found that 43% of US organisations find existing employees benefit from contingent workers’ skills transfer.
  • Include gig workers in company communications. You may need to have different levels of confidentiality, but sharing company news and seeking feedback from gig workers will help them feel engaged. Digital communication tools such as intranets, chat applications and social engagement platforms are particularly helpful for engaging gig workers in a mobile, geographically dispersed workforce.
  • Recognise contributions. Gig workers will be more engaged (and more productive) if they are aware of how they contribute. Offer (and seek) regular feedback, celebrate success, and demonstrate to both gig workers and employees how much their joint contributions matter.
  • Treat gig workers with respect. If you don’t, they may damage your reputation. If you do, they will be valuable advocates for your organisation.

About Jenny Perkins

Jenny Perkins is Head of Engagement at Cirrus. Jenny can be contacted at jenny.perkins@cirrus-connect.com or @jennyperkins50
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