The scope of gig work has been rising ever since companies began resorting to hiring people who were willing to work part-time/ on a gig basis, to meet their talent demands. But such rising reliance on gig workers at times when most parts of the gig economy remain unregulated and unchecked could have a significant impact on the well-being of gig workers.
According to Forbes, more than one-third (36 percent) of US workers are a part of the gig economy, about 57 million people.
The UK is witnessing a rise as well, the Office of National Statistics reports there were 3.3 million self-employed workers in 2001 compared to 4.8 million in 2017, a rise from 13 percent to 15 percent of the total working population. Even in India, reports suggest a rise in the number of gig workers in the coming years, with the current presence of gig, work in the country already reaching noticeable levels.
Technological advances have led employees to be more productive. It has also enabled HR professionals and companies to fine-tune their TA models by hiring for niche skills. One way to do this is by using the many digital platforms like Upwork and Flexiwork to hire gig workers who meet skill considerations. Even traditional workspaces are slowly making space for gig workers as productivity levels have risen, which means skilled gig workers can contribute equally.
Breaking old patterns
The combined impact of technology and demographic shifts within the workforce has resulted in a departure from older, more rigid working patterns. While technological advances in the field of digital tech and AI have today made gig work possible and perhaps a lucrative option, social and demographic changes have ensured that people are slowly accepting this change.
Flexible work options are gaining preference with gig work becoming an important player in accessing semi-formal jobs, making well-being of gig workers an important concern, one that is often ignored in many conversations that have to do with gig workers.
In a country like India, the scope of gig work is multifaceted. Technology has helped breakdown jobs into more simpler bits (or gigs) and can help companies hire gig workers across specific components of work. Although used predominantly within tech facing industries, companies can today access talent to meet their varied demands. The AI industry in the country, for example, consists of many micro-tasks like data labeling, which usually requires low-skilled workers, with many across Tier 2 and 3 cities involved in it.
This while e-commerce startups across the spectrum, from ride-hailing services to food and product delivery companies, all depend on gig work to ensure their business models are successful. How long do such jobs remain is a big question, as it's been noted that with machines getting smarter, lower-skilled workers often end up getting displaced first. Workers do not have the autonomy to decide tasks, negotiate payments or form worker collectives and are under the control, though fragmented, of the platform.
Thus, while some gig workers can access better-paying gigs, a majority of gig workers in India remain part of lower-skilled work that can be easily automated. While technology today has enabled workers to be more productive, its usage has been limited and often ends up ignoring the concerns of worker well-being.
With a large portion of the current workforce that is young and technologically savvy, gig work might provide a way to access ‘formal jobs’ but often without the necessary focus given to concerns of well-being and access to better capital.
This proves to be harmful in the long run as while companies might meet their productivity needs, gig workers might end up working in conditions that impact their well-being significantly.
Wellness at the center
While gig work is often pitched as a way to have more autonomy over one's time - and as a result providing more space to individuals to establish better work-life balance - for the majority of gig workers that’s not the case. For many, there is little choice when it comes to autonomy, predictability or stability in a job. Even for companies depending completely on gig workers, working without providing well-being opportunities might prove detrimental. In addition to legislation on the matter, employer benefits on such aspects prove crucial. Without an employer to provide benefits and training, some gig workers are left feeling they have no support in terms of financial and mental well-being. Given the market conditions defined by steep competition, for many companies, it might soon become imperative to look at the well-being of their gig workers.