Business Columns & Blogs

‘Gig’ work is increasingly common

A generation ago, if you talked about someone having a gig, you were talking about a musician.

Today, the term has morphed into a job description for self employment, contract or freelance work, temporary jobs, moonlighting and, sometimes, even part-time employment – just about anything except a full-time job with a single employer.

Gigs are supplanting the kinds of positions that once were called “permanent.”

The rise of the gig economy came along with the evolution of on-demand or as-needed hiring. Digitized order, stocking, sales, expense and staffing programs made it far faster to staff up or down as business required. Employers sliced and diced at their payrolls or outsourced entire departments to third-party providers.

For a while, the gig trend was seen as a temporary response to the Great Recession. Downsized employees took as-needed jobs or tried to make a go of entrepreneurship because that’s all that was available. They expected “permanent” hiring to rebound along with the overall economy.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, driving for ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft has become one of the most common new jobs in America.

Such jobs may not provide employer-subsidized health care insurance, but the introduction of the Affordable Care Act helped some workers overcome that barrier to gig employment.

Gigs aren’t likely to come with retirement plans, and that’s definitely a detriment to be solved by individual financial discipline. And there aren’t paid sick days; if you don’t work, you don’t earn.

At job-loss support groups, there’s still wistful reaching for “real jobs” – positions that provide all those employee benefits. But wise career counselors point to gig options.

It’s not all bad.

Surveys find that many gig economy workers are happy. The hourly pay may be better than what they earned as “permanent” employees. They may enjoy work-hour flexibility that’s perfect for their family or continuing education needs. And they may find they’re good at being their own boss.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone. Some workers need their duties and hours to be dictated; they’re not self-starters or can’t identify gig opportunities and follow through.

But the message for a big sector of the workforce is that many individuals who’ve transitioned to the gig economy – by choice or out of desperation – often say they can’t imagine returning to a “real” job.

If they’ve positioned themselves in an industry or occupation that needs what they do, they often find they’re making more money than they did as employees. And they’re more in control of their own work lives.

Yes, the impermanence of gigs can be scary. But, really, what is permanent?

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star. stafford@kcstar.com, 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford, kansascity.com/workplace

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