The rise in technology over the past decade has facilitated growth in the ‘gig economy’ where individuals forsake the stability of traditional work arrangements, choosing nomadic professional lifestyles. They work on a consultancy, freelance or temporary basis on a series of “gigs” or projects. It is important to recognise that those who make this choice are not always doing so for economic reasons and there is evidence that, despite their potentially unreliable and unsteady income, gig economy workers are more satisfied with this life choice than their peers as it affords them greater flexibility and autonomy. These are two critical wellbeing factors that are often overlooked in traditional workplace wellbeing strategies.
However, participants in the gig economy are also more prone to anxiety and depression and can experience greater levels of financial instability. While our understanding of the wellbeing challenges presented by the gig economy is in its infancy, the increasing dependence on this sector raises two key questions around wellbeing. Firstly, what does the rise of the gig economy tell us about how our employees experience today’s workplaces, and what can we do to attract and retain top talent who might otherwise prefer the flexibility that ‘gigs’ offer? Secondly, as more organisations engage with workers from the gig economy, how can we build workplace environments that support the wellbeing of all? This must include those who are not permanent employees but whose optimal performance we depend on? These questions are likely to become even more pressing as highlighted by Gartner research which found that “32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure” post-COVID-19.
COVID-19 has changed almost everything about the way in which we work, how we think about our workplaces and our wellbeing. During the pandemic, many previously held beliefs about barriers to remote work were dismantled as workers worldwide were suddenly forced to work from home, and trends towards digitalisation were accelerated. For many, the traditional 9-5 office workday disappeared. Teams were forced to find new ways to connect and collaborate as the established command and control management structures struggled to meet the need for increased speed and agility.
Technology became key to meeting many of the challenges presented by our new way of working. Whilst technology has the potential to level out some of the inequities in the workplace, it may also lead to others feeling left behind and/or isolated. In addition, as teams were separated from their managers and physical workplaces, it became clear that more reliable data was required to better understand which employees may be more vulnerable to poor wellbeing, and could in turn identify how to support this ‘invisible’ workforce.