If you think that the gig economy is the preserve of the millennials whose realisation that they will never be able to shackle themselves to a crippling 30 year mortgage leads them to a hedonistic lifestyle of travelling and short term contracts, think again...it’s already out there, some of you are living it without realising it and the rest of you may find yourself heading that way no matter how far down your career path you are.
I’m fairly confident that at some point you will have said, or at least have heard someone saying “well of course there’s not such thing as a permanent job these days anyway”. While on a level of abject pedantry we know that’s not true, the fact is that is just a different way of saying we’re all part of the gig economy.
Interim and permanent - two colliding worlds
If we consider it in terms we’re a little more familiar with – interim and permanent – we can see how this has gathered pace in recent years. In the early part of the millennium, the two worlds of interim and permanent professionals were just that; two worlds. Separate orbiting bodies of people with very few breaching the pull of one to join the other without a significant shock to their orbit. But that shock came in 2007/8 with the financial crisis and all of a sudden, through necessity, people started to move between permanent and interim work more readily than ever before, and suddenly the evolution of the gig economy kicked off.
While I still hear hiring managers, every now and then, expressing concern at applicants for a permanent role coming forward on the back of a number of interim assignments, the reality is that they are fewer and further between. Most organisations realise there’s a significant benefit to bringing people on board who have a variety of organisational experience to bring to the table. Hiring clones of the previous incumbent into leadership roles was, in part, one of the reasons for the financial crash itself; more diversity of thought in the organisations that led the way at the time may have led to more questions about the sustainability of the strategies in play.
Paradoxically, had the gig economy been in full flow in the early 2000’s it may have prevented the series of events that led to its own evolution…if you follow me.
The rise of the interim
The rise in the number of people working on interim bases will continue, businesses reap the benefits of a regular input of new ideas from an energised, enthusiastic workforce who have not had time to get bored and stagnant and are not obsessed with treading the party line for fear of losing their job.
It provides businesses with the opportunity to tap into senior expertise in a financially palatable manner, without which they would be unable to develop themselves as quickly as they need. The gig economy provides senior practitioners with the framework to deliver their expertise at the level befitting of their experience without having to get bogged down in operational weeds (if that’s what they prefer). Individuals embracing the gig economy thrive on the variety themselves, it keeps them interested, challenged and motivated, it’s bespoke and fit for their very individual purpose and as such has positive impacts on wellbeing and general health.
It is not without its obstacles of course…for a start IR35, initially a sensible piece of legislation aimed squarely at those who were clearly exploiting the system, seems to be doing its level best to stifle the justified, necessary, healthy evolution of our working lives.
While for now restricted to the public sector, and I believe still with underlying, fairly well hidden, good intentions, based on the discussions I’m having with the HR community, IR35 is making people nervous and as such they're having second thoughts about joining the gig.
Equally, proposed national insurance hikes will not encourage more adopters to this way of life. But actually I don’t think either of these issues is great enough to halt the march altogether. There’s an underlying will of the general population to enjoy their work more, to work longer and as such a requirement for that work to be enjoyable, and not detrimental to their health.
Evolution of a new work style
HR strategies are coming into line with major steps forward in almost all organisations around flexibility of contracts and while globalisation as a whole is under the microscope, it’s not going to be stopped in its tracks and as the world continues to shrink, more opportunities will continue present themselves.
So whether you’re just starting out in your career and looking for a varied, fast-changing and all challenging career or have been wondering for a while when you might finally hang up your boots but still want to keep the grey matter exercised and impart your wisdom on the generations that follow, the gig economy is out there for you.