By Chaim Shapiro
I was very interested in your last column about finding a “side hustle“. I think the need for a lucrative side hustle is almost universal in today’s world. I want to take this one step further. I have seen the prediction that, in the future, everyone will be involved in multiple “side hustles” as opposed to having a more traditional job as their main form of employment. Do you believe that is accurate? If so, what is your opinion on this trend?
Thank you so much for your question. The phenomenon you are referring to is called the “gig economy.” The theory behind the “gig economy” postulates that the work world is rapidly evolving. As part of that evolution, people (and companies) will see less of a need to maintain the current model of employment. Proponents of this theory believe that instead of working for one company, people will become independent contractors who will work for multiple companies and on multiple projects at one time.
Is that an accurate prediction? Clearly, the work world is evolving rapidly. As a primary example, many companies have already embraced the wisdom of allowing (or even encouraging) workers to work from home. They understand that some people are more productive in their home office than they would be on location.
A few months ago, I visited the New York City Twitter offices to discuss employment opportunities for Touro students. Their campus recruiter described the Twitter work environment.
He told me that his team regularly had “WFH (Work From Home) days and “WFP” days in the summer. I was not familiar with that term, so he explained that “WFP” stood for “Work From Pool!” His team had regular days when team members across the country telecommuted to work from their favorite swimming pools!
Twitter is an extreme example, of course, but there is no question that the work world is changing. More employees working from home and fewer from the actual company campus means lower costs for the employer in terms of work space and other workplace expenses. The key point is that once workers have been removed from the company’s physical plant, it is easy to see the argument that companies should take that philosophy to its logical conclusion: contract out all their work on a competitive bidding model to save even more money.
Contract work would also give employees much more freedom to choose their workload based on their skills and passion, as well as the opportunity to work the way they like and at their own speed.
Without getting into the political discussion, recent changes to health insurance have further dissolved one of the primary ties that bind employees to the traditional employment model. When people can easily purchase health insurance on their own, there is less motivation for employees to limit themselves to a particular employer to receive health benefits.
I tend to think that these are all compelling arguments, but I am not ready to buy into the idea that we are on the precipice of a major “gig economy” revolution. I think that there is no question that we will see more employees opting for the freedom of “gig” work, but I don’t think the work model is going to change so drastically, so quickly.
The principles of industrial psychology help explain why. There is a reason that groups of people incorporate and hire full-time employees as opposed to contracting out all of their work. In the long run, it is cheaper and more efficient to have dedicated employees on a competitive performance model than it would be to hire independent contractors for every task. There is more stability, accountability, and familiarity with regular employees whose professional interests match the company’s mission. Even though employees are more likely to change jobs now than at any time in the past, having regular employees is still more predictable and efficient.
I also believe that employees tend to be more comfortable with the standard employment model. While there are always entrepreneurs who thrive on risk taking, I believe most employees still prefer the stability of regular employment with the understanding that if they are not happy, they are free to seek other employment opportunities elsewhere.
In my last article, I described how expertise in a particular area does not necessarily correlate with expertise in business and self-promotion. I believe a lot of employees would find the instability in a contract economy and the need to constantly secure new “gigs” horrifying.
Think about the idea of never receiving a regular paycheck and competing with thousands of other people from all over the world for every opportunity. While some people might embrace that challenge, I think most would not. So, no, I don’t think we are about to see a radical restructuring of the work world. I do believe that in order to be more competitive, companies need to adjust to the changes in the modern workplace.
Working from home is the new normal, and companies that want to compete for the best employees will have to adjust to that and other new realities. I do not, however, foresee drastic changes in the worker–employer relationship in the near future.
Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed., is director of the Office for Student Success at Touro College. He is a freelance writer, public speaker, and social-media consultant specializing in LinkedIn. Please send your career questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by Twitter @chaimshapiro.