Why, despite your government, you should care about the gig economy
You are part of the gig economy. The chances are you don’t yet feel part of it. However, it is my view that sooner or later you will be. And in many respects you’ll be happier for it, if you prepare accordingly.
The gig economy is misunderstood
Before I get into that, I need to dispel some misunderstandings about the gig economy. To a large extent it has been politicised to highlight the exploitation of people who have no other economic options. In this respect, Governments need to put policies in place that address such inequalities including those related to education and access to opportunity.
Recent research by the UK Government states that the gig economy currently impacts under 5% of the population.
But it restrictively defines a gig as something that originates from a technology platform such as that of Uber or TaskRabbit.
But the gig economy is really the freelancing economy. This model of working has been around for some time. Freelancers essentially ‘eat what they kill’. They (we) do not enjoy the safety blanket of knowing that your salary is assured so long as you don’t ‘rock the boat’ or ‘put your head above the pulpit’. But that employment model is going the way of the dodo.
Harness your inner gig worker
I would argue that anthropologically we are wired to be gig workers. For the vast majority of mankind’s existence on the planet, we spent our time acquiring food to eat, generally surviving and enjoying the company of our tribal compatriots. Hunting and gathering represented work.
As we entered the industrial age, work increasingly provided us with an economic surplus. Thus, survival morphed into lifestyle.
Today, we find ourselves working long hours to acquire things we don’t need to impress others we don’t really like.
It’s the same for them. Thus, the industrial model has turned us into isolated narcissistic hamsters trapped in an ever-faster spinning wheel.
Our hunter gatherer forefathers could not rely on a guaranteed and endless supply of berries or wildlife on which to ensure their survival. There were factors such as the weather and rival tribes that might require us to change our eating habits at short notice. If we take hunting and gathering as the original form of work, because it was, our ability to adapt to market availability was key to our survival.
Fast forward to today. Many of us, having enjoyed the manufactured certainty of the industrial era, are now facing a number of market forces that cannot be held at bay by paternalistic employers.
The digital age is inherently uncertain, such is the nature of hyper-connectivity.
Macroeconomic factors such as access to natural resources, globalisation, evolving technology and the power axis swinging further east are all conspiring to fuel the associated hyper-uncertainty.
Consequently, employers need greater workforce flexibility and the workers in turn need to adapt to flexible working models. So, in this respect the gig economy is a return to our true nature and should thus be welcomed.
The typical hunter gatherer lived by their wits (or became prey). They were streetwise (more specifically savanna-wise) and relied heavily on their natural talents to stay alive.
We have spent the last few hundred years telling the animal kingdom who is boss and so we now have no natural predators.
In turn we have largely become lazy, allowed our wits to shrivel up and now spend our working lives going through the motions. We then spend our non-work time executing various distraction techniques, so that we don’t have to dwell on the sensation that something is badly wrong. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Coming to humanity’s rescue
The good news is that the gig economy has come to humanity’s rescue, but we in turn need to raise our game. More specifically, the digital age has forced us to return to our true nature. You might think of yourself today as a digital hunter gatherer.
More and more people in the developed world are surviving on their wits and killing enough to eat.
Those that have been reluctantly plunged into the world of freelancing, perhaps because of the collapse of their employer’s business model or the offshoring of their role to a more cost-effective part of the planet, learn very quickly to rebalance their outgoings with their incomings. As have many young people, whose economic fortunes (or lack thereof) were defined by the Lehman Brothers collapse. Consequently, frugal capitalism has become cool. But that is not to say you cannot do financially very well in the gig economy; ask any interim CxO.
Money aside, some of us primarily enjoy the freedoms that go with taking responsibility for our own survival.
Taking a mosaic approach to work is less risky and is preferable to channelling all our energies into one organisation whose primary purpose is in making a handful of shareholders happy.
Whilst the UK Government struggles with whether freelancing is good or bad, UK society has embraced it and thus our workforce is in the main more adaptable to the needs of the market. Such adaptability ranges from pizza delivery to leading large organisations.
So how can you prepare to thrive economically in the digital age? Firstly, there is no need to acquire a moped, but as mentioned, it does increase your options in some areas of the gig economy.
If you are a traditional employee tethered to an industrial era organisation, I encourage you to:
- Build your own brand.
- Out in the digital savanna establishing trust is a survival skill.
- Treat your ‘career’ as a lean start up.
- Follow the market data.
- Build a portfolio of careers.
- Author before breakfast, digital strategist during the day and psycho-ceilidh tin whistler by night.
- Regard self-development as a daily tablet, rather than a one-off inoculation.
- Wean yourself off of permanent employment.
- Develop a weekend side-hustle, or two. As your confidence grows move to a 4-day week work contract.
- The next recession will make this easier to negotiate.
- Test your market worth.
- Regularly apply for jobs to explore the boundaries of your work portfolio options.
- Ignore your parents.
- Their perception of there being security in permanent employment was acquired in a soon to be bygone era.
- Conversely stick with permanent employment if you get a buzz out of betting your primary source of income on one horse, or you enjoy the helplessness that goes with being a cog in an organisation that does not know how to respond to the digital age market.
Wake up government!
It is likely that your government has compartmentalised the gig economy into a niche category, thus rendering it of only passing interest to economists and the public. But the reality is that it is steadily becoming the primary ‘employment’ model. Governments need to wake up to this and put the appropriate policies in place. In turn, citizens need to become comfortable operating in the unforgiving digital age savanna. The sooner we adjust to the new reality, the sooner we will all enjoy the benefits that go with returning to our true human nature.