If you haven’t heard the term “gig economy” yet, you probably haven’t been paying attention to a major shift in the job market. For various reasons – from complicated benefits requirements for traditional employees, to changes in technology, and everything in between – more and more employers have been opting for contracted labor. The people who are willing to fill those positions often juggle multiple contracts at one time, out of necessity. That “should” be obvious, since it’s not likely that any single gig will pay enough to make ends meet. Employers are theoretically using this option to save money.
That brings us to the first thing that gig employees wish employers understood:
No, you probably aren’t my only employer – If you’re an employer who is having trouble filling a contracted position, take a close look at the time you’re expecting from a potential employee. This isn’t just about the raw amount of time you expect a person to work. If you’re expecting the candidate to commit to being essentially “on-call” all the time, or if you’ve set up hard and fast deadlines spread out through more than just an eight hour day, you’re probably not going to find someone to do the job. That’s especially true if the pay you’re offering isn’t remotely close to market rates for a full-time position in the field. Time is money for a gig worker, and if you’re saying that you expect a person to be willing to jump every time you call, you are setting expectations too high (unless you’re willing to pay for that ability.) Either expect to be told that your work will be done within a reasonable period of time, or be willing to pay handsomely to get your projects to the top of the proverbial pile every time.
Yes, I often do prioritize my projects based on pay scale – This is something that some gig workers might not want to admit out loud, but we’re human. Of course we’re going to get the work that is paying us the most done first. We might push other deadlines to the extreme limit, even to the point of getting ourselves in danger of losing a lower paying gig to keep the higher one. We know we’re expendable on the job market, and usually the first to lose our positions when budget cuts happen. That means we’ll put the highest paying and most stable gigs first, since it will hurt us less in the pocketbook if we lose something small. Sadly, most gig workers won’t let an employer know what the “break point” is – what pay and time commitment level is needed to put a gig on the top of the pile. If you’re really serious about making sure that your work takes priority, ask what it would take. Don’t be surprised if a candidate doesn’t answer easily or at all. (There’s advice to gig workers here, too. It’s better to be honest about this, if an employer asks.) Keep in mind that a lot of people are new to this type of employment – employers and employees alike. We’re all on a learning curve on how to negotiate terms.
I do gig work for the flexibility – That might seem obvious, but it gets lost once the contract negotiations start. Employers get requirements floating in their heads, and potential employees start weighing the wages versus time commitment. Also, it’s important to remember that gig workers have to shift gears from one employer to the next on a daily basis. Not all employers have the same expectations, even within the same field. Don’t set yourself up to lose gig employees on a regular basis by expecting them to know everything you want immediately. For example, in my own field of writing and editing, I regularly shift between writing styles – AP, APA, and Chicago – and occasionally that gear shifting is a bit rusty. If every employer I had assumed that I was incompetent when I would occasionally use the wrong style for them, there would be major problems. Thankfully, I haven’t dealt with that often, but on the rare occasions that I have, employers who insulted my intelligence quickly found out that while they considered me expendable, that thinking was mutual.
Yes, gig workers do talk to each other – This can work for or against employers who hire people on contract on a regular basis. There isn’t a formal “black list” per se, but word travels fast if someone is slow to pay, too demanding for the pay offered, or just generally “difficult.” On the other side, there are companies that get recommended as great employers, too.
I do know how to find other gig workers – If you already have gig workers for one type of work, and need them for another, a good place to start looking is among the ones you already have. Some people have multiple skill sets, so you might have what you’re looking for already. When we apply for a gig, we don’t necessarily say anything about other skills we have. Failing that, we know other gig workers personally, and we usually have favorite places to look for gigs. (Very few of us will ever go to Craigslist, but we probably are registered on at least one or two freelance job sites.) Ask us, and we’ll tell you where to find the cream of the crop, or ask around for you.
Offices are overrated – In my industry – writing and editing – there are rare circumstances when it’s absolutely necessary for people to actually work in an office together. In spite of the movement toward team-building, open office plans, and living room style work spaces, there is still a large contingent of people who like to call the coffee shop their office. Gig workers are usually in that set. Let’s be honest – we do this so we don’t have to deal with set hours, commuting to an office, or changing out of our pajamas to go to work. Beyond saving on overhead for office space, offering remote gigs opens up your options, too. You’re no longer limited to your local area when you’re searching to fill a position. If your argument for having your employees under your own roof is that you want to be able to keep an eye on them, you might need to rethink your staffing choices and management style. Yes, you do have to trust remote workers – a lot. Ask yourself, do you really want to feel that you can’t trust your own employees to do their jobs without needing someone to watch?
This list is generally interrelated, and only scratches the surface. There probably could be a few books written on the in’s and out’s of gig work, and how to break down some of the walls that often end up between the workers and their employers. The bottom line is that gig workers are usually a mix between the “work to live” and “live to work” crowds – the two extremes. Either they’re doing just what they need to be able to pay the bills and afford what they want, or they’re total workaholics who wish for 48 hour days and 14 day weeks. The ones who stick with it aren’t the kind of workers who need hand-holding and excessive amounts of guidance. They’re doing the same thing the business owners they work for do, just on a smaller scale. It’s a business, and when you hire one, you’re hiring a “boss.” Maybe just remembering that is a good start for employers who are stepping into the world of hiring gig workers.
- Ann Coulter, UC Berkeley, and Attention Whoredom
- Musings on Writer’s Block