In defence of the gig economy

The Business of People Blog Series

In a time of daily negative headlines about workers rights, zero hours contracts and the pressure on today's gig economy workforce, Darren Ryemill argues that the contentious G word can be great…

I've read many stories in the last few weeks about the gig economy - that it's exploitative and that workers like Don Lane are dying as a direct result of businesses using this model. So I want to tackle the controversy and put forward the case for it. I think the gig economy is a good thing and contrary to popular belief, it can benefit employees as well as employers. Like most things, there are downsides along with the positives, but that applies just as much to 'gig' working as it does to full-time employment.

I'll start by saying that my advice to anyone - regardless of their employment status - would be to never miss a doctor's appointment because of work. Your health is worth more than any hourly rate whether that's £7 an hour or £7k. And Don Lane's story is a tragic one - but that doesn't mean the whole model should be considered evil.

Ultimately, to operate in the gig economy, there are a lot less barriers to entry, which can be a good thing. Let's look at an Uber driver versus a traditional black cab driver. The Uber driver benefits from the use of Uber's technology, that they've developed and spent millions on. They also benefit from controlling the hours they want to work. They can work weekends to top up another weekly income, take time off whenever they want or do extra shifts if they choose to - and flexibility in today's world is a great thing. The downsides, as reported very publicly, are that as an Uber driver you're self-employed and therefore don't get holiday or sick pay. No, you don't get the benefits of being a salaried employee, but should you really expect to have those perks and the flexibility and perks of being self-employed? In my view, you can't have it all and this comes down to choice. If you want to work a 40-hour week and reap the benefits that brings, then you can.  Likewise, if you want to become a professional driver but don't want to do the knowledge for three years, you can. Just sign up, plug your sat nav in and off you go. 

There's a project Opus are involved with at the moment that's a fantastic example of the gig economy at it's best. is an online platform bringing together employers that have jobs they're happy to pay a fee for and recruiters who have candidates they'd like to put forward for those jobs. It's an online marketplace - hooking up fee-paying jobs and recruiters. We specifically wanted to set this up as gig economy friendly. So you don't need to be in an office and you don't need to work office hours - you can work weekends, after hours or alongside another role. The top performing person on last month was a stay at home mum. Previously to joining the site she'd been working as a cleaner and being paid an hourly rate for a set amount of days. In the month after joining, this lady made three placements - including one person into an investment bank - and she's made thousands of pounds as a result. She's probably made more in a month than she would previously in a year but she doesn't get sick pay…boo hoo!

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal responsibility. It's up to her to put some money aside - to make up for the fact that she won't be getting sick or holiday pay. Freelancers and self-employed people have effectively been working in this way for years, taking jobs on a gig basis is nothing new. And you don't need a fleet of accountants to help out - just Google what money you should be putting aside for things like tax and pensions and do it. So yes, the gig economy places more personal responsibility on the employee but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, all of us have a responsibility of due care and attention when we take on a job - of any kind. People need to do their homework and know what they're getting into. If you sign a contract saying you're employed to work 40 hours a week, you cant start crying and saying its unfair when you've got to work 40 hours a week. Likewise, if you're going into a business that uses zero-hours contracts, you can't start crying when you get zero hours. And if you choose to work in the gig economy/freelance world then be aware that there are some perks you'll miss out on and also that there's no guarantee of work. Next month our Uber driver might not get any bookings - that's the risk that goes with that way of working.

The thing that's often missed about the gig economy is the entrepreneurial spirit in there. Everyone nowadays says they want to be an entrepreneur - but the definition of that person is someone who takes risks to make money. In fact, I'm probably the ultimate example of someone in the gig economy. We have guaranteed outgoings totalling millions every month and we turnover a profit to cover those outgoings by investing heavily in money and time. And in the gig economy that's what you're doing, you're investing your time for a future fee. In that sense, you're an entrepreneur and you're taking a risk on your skills, on a short-term basis. I know that if Opus don't make any money, we go bust - I understand that risk and it's one I've signed up to because I think it's worth it for the potential upside.

I also think that in the future, the gig economy could change the wider business world and end up benefitting those who seek full-time employment. Let's take the example of barristers, who are often self-employed. These are viewed as some of the top professionals in our society in earning potential and value. Now, if you were a big firm and you wanted to attract a top barrister to join your firm, you'd have to make it extremely worth their while to even look at you. You need to incentivise them - big time - to give up their freedom and effectively, be tied to you. Businesses will need to start paying a premium for 'owning' talented people. I'm already seeing this happening more in the tech industry. So in that sense, the gig economy, as it carries more momentum, will ironically allow certain employees to capitalize on their skills in full-time employment.

So whilst I'm not saying the gig economy is without its flaws, I am saying that working in that way is a choice - and I think it's right that people have options about how they work. One of the best things about being human is that we have the power to choose what we want to do. What should you choose?...well that's down to you!

Do you agree? Or have an alternative opinion on the gig economy? Get in touch with me on my LinkedIn or Twitter today. And if there are any other topics you'd like me to blog about then just let me know.

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