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How to Win the War for Talent in the Gig Economy

Cheerful businessman working from home on phone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Since the gig economy exploded on the scene during the Great Recession, it has reshaped the American workforce. Consider that today, more than one-third of Americans report that they are participating in one way or another, with 49 percent of adults under 35 “gigging it.” Certainly there are pros and cons to gig work, and the subject is wracked by ongoing controversy as legislators struggle to define what it really means to be an employee. Yet, companies can’t afford to ignore the powerful lure, especially among young people, of working this way.  

[ The AV Gig Economy ]

The flexible nature of gig work appeals highly to the younger generation. To them, the work/life integration built into the gig economy is not a cool trend but a priority, even a value. And companies competing for Gen X, Y, and Z workers need to bake it into the jobs they offer.

Even as people become increasingly disenchanted with the harsher realities of gig work (like the lack of benefits and protections employees enjoy), they still crave many aspects of it. Young workers love setting their own hours, clocking in remotely, and being able to take off to meet family obligations, even on short notice. companies that provide these working conditions are the ones that will thrive in the future.

The idea is to give them the best of both worlds: the financial stability that only a “job job” can offer, but also the sense of freedom that comes with gig work. Many workplaces got to test these work styles in real-time because of COVID-19 quarantine—and in many cases, the results were positive.

The first surprise for many employers who’d been reluctant to allow workers to telecommute was that productivity actually soared. When working from home is done well, psychologists emphasize that it can improve employee productivity, creativity, and morale.

[ How to Leverage Talent in the YOLO Economy

While not every workplace is able to provide work-from-home options, there are many ways for companies to compete with the gig economy. A few suggestions:

Keep the number-one thing young employees want—work/life integration—top of mind. In one survey, nearly 17 percent of respondents said it was the most important factor they consider when choosing a job … more than leadership opportunities, flexibility, professional development, and a laundry list of other benefits. Factor this truth into every decision you make as you shape your workplace culture. 

Consider allowing employees to work remotely, part or all of the time. Remote work is the single biggest factor that gives employees the flexibility to work on their own time. Quite often this eliminates long (and costly) commutes, childcare dilemmas, canceled parent-teacher conferences, and more. However, this option won’t work for every position or every workplace.

Be real, with yourself and with employees, about what the job requires. If the remote option works, then great, but if it doesn’t, both you and the employee will be unhappy in the long run. Often, a hybrid arrangement might prove to be a good solution.

Let them maintain control over when they’re available. Even if a job can’t realistically be done remotely, people may still be able to tailor hours to their own schedule. For example, they might come in earlier (or later) and leave earlier (or later). This often ensures that their work is done at the most effective times, without rushing or exhaustion, and enables employees to fulfill family obligations without interfering with their working hours.

Empower men to share the burden of childcare without career penalty. In today’s world, many men share the burden of childcare or put their own careers on the backburner to support their wives. Allowing these employees flexibility to fulfill their family obligations can keep effective workers in your company, rather than losing them to the gig economy.

Just like Tom, my millennial associate who told me he wasn’t interested in long hours or a fast track to making partner at our firm because his wife’s career took precedence in their family, millions of couples are struggling with how to best balance dual careers. Organizations need to recognize this as reality for employees.

Don’t skimp on real time off. If you are able to let employees work from home (either full-time or part-time), don’t make the mistake of thinking this format is a replacement for actual free time. It is all too easy for work-from-home jobs to morph into an expectation for workers to be plugged in 24/7, but this sort of work environment will absolutely lead to burnout, and, therefore, a lower quality of work produced.

Give your employees a chance to build new skills. Many gig workers enjoy the exciting new experiences that gig work can provide and look down upon the monotony of the traditional nine-to-five. Allowing your employees a chance to “shake things up” and learn something new can give your company an exciting edge over other traditional workplaces.

Ask yourself: What do young people REALLY want? Then start moving your company in that direction. For example, they want training and development, the opportunity to collaborate with teams, a sense of meaning in their work, and an affiliation with socially responsible entities. They insist on fairness, equity, diversity, and inclusion. So, take a hard look at your workplace culture and see where you’re not in alignment with these values. Move to fix any glaring problems right away. Then get set on making long-term changes that will make you more likely to meet the needs and wants of younger generations.

It’s absolutely essential that your workplace become attractive enough to young, talented workers so they will choose employment with you over the lure of gig work. Freedom and flexibility are great, but like all human beings, young employees want to feel a genuine sense of belonging. If you can provide that, you can capture their hearts and minds and maybe even earn their loyalty.

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Rick Grimaldi

Rick Grimaldi is a workplace trends expert and the author of FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace. Grimaldi's unique perspective comes from his diverse career in high-ranking public service positions, as a human resources and labor relations professional for an international hi-tech company, and presently in private practice as a partner with Fisher Phillips, LLP, one of America’s preeminent management side labor and employment law firms. Day to day, Grimaldi works with companies to help them adapt to the ever-changing business environment, achieve their workplace goals, and become better employers. Grimaldi is an internationally recognized writer and keynote speaker, and has been selected through a peer review process as one of The Best Lawyers in America in three of the last four years. 

For more information,  visit rickgrimaldi.com.