The Gig Economy – is it Right for You?

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This job I’m doing right now, as I write these words, is part of an emerging modern workforce. Around 57 million people in the United States and over 2 million in Canada are estimated to be part of the “gig economy.” If you aren’t familiar with the term, this is a portion of the labor market that survives based on short-term contracts or freelance work. Like any industry, it has its benefits and drawbacks, but experts believe that this type of employment is the wave of the future. People who work this way have almost complete flexibility in how much work they take on and when, but the uncertainty is too much for others. So how do you know if the gig economy is right for you?

Why the gig economy rocks

The gig economy includes companies you’ve likely heard of – Lyft, Door Dash, and Etsy to name a few. Many people like this type of work because they can often set their own hours and take on only work they wish to complete. It’s a helpful bridge for anyone who is between jobs, only wants to work part-time, or needs to supplement their income with work that also won’t interfere with their main career. I fall into the latter category. For the last several years, I’ve been working as an actor. Unfortunately, this kind of work is very sporadic and unpredictable. So, I’ve taken on several freelance jobs that leave me with enough flexibility to still make it to industry events or last-minute auditions.

Employers enjoy a lot of benefits from this kind of work, too. Small businesses that perhaps can’t justify the cost of retaining full-time employees benefit from the gig economy. There are other businesses that don’t need a traditional office space, so they can save money by using contracted employees who work from home. Some studies suggest that workers are happier, which means they’re more likely to continue to work this way, and companies won’t have to replace them.

Why the gig economy is not as easy as some think

The big drawback to the gig economy is that workers have to take charge of their own benefits programs. There’s no 401(k), no health insurance, and the like. For those who make enough to purchase their own, or if they have a spouse with a benefits package, this may not be a big deal. It is certainly a point you should consider if you’re considering doing this kind of work.

Another drawback you might not think about is loneliness. Despite what some of us (okay…me) would think, humans are social creatures and do well with regular social interaction. It can be more difficult for those working in the gig economy to have that social contact and connection that often comes from working in a traditional workplace. For some of us introverts, that might seem like a plus instead of a minus, but your work productivity can actually decrease if you feel too isolated or become depressed.

So, should you try it?

If you’re considering doing this kind of work, I encourage you to take a good look at your personal circumstances. Will you be able to work enough to support yourself or a family? Will you make enough to buy your own benefits, or do you have a spouse who has a job with benefits? What is it that makes this work appealing to you – the flexibility, the solitude, or something else? If you’re not sure, I suggest you continue to do whatever you’re doing for work now and pick up an easy side gig that you can do during your spare time. If you end up enjoying it, perhaps you’ll decide that the gig economy is right for you.

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