25 Sep 2020

Picture credit: iStock by Getty Images

The world is increasingly going digital and technology led innovations have a significant role in encouraging people’s participation on these digital platforms. This gave rise to the gig economy. Since 2010, the gig economy has received much popularity and attention from researchers, pointing to its extraordinary rate of growth. The gig economy represents rapidly growing labour platforms which connect ‘workers’ with ‘requesters’ to facilitate on-demand work, that continues to develop and flourish globally.

Not too long ago, the emergence of gig economy was being hailed by many as the dawn of a new era in employment. The thrill of not having a 9-5 job, working at one’s own comfort, pace and interest, being one’s own boss, were some of the reasons young professionals quit their steady jobs to branch out on their own. As per a report published in the March-April 2018 issue of HBR, approximately 150 million workers in North America and Western Europe left their stable work life to work as independent workers by 2018. Then we further witnessed the widespread emergence of co-working spaces, especially in the metros which further aided this change.

Cut to year 2020, the situation has not just changed but has taken a drastic turn. The recent pandemic and resultant economic gloom have left many freelancers out of work and bereft of opportunities as companies cover losses and shrink budgets to survive. According to a survey by App Jobs 68% of the gig workers have no income today.

The gig economy could always be understood as a disproportionate division of risk. Several firms in the gig economy have expanded operations during the Covid-19 pandemic. This has been made possible by the ready availability of an at-risk labour force. The coronavirus crisis has put a spotlight on many of the long-term struggles faced by gig workers – limited access to employment benefits, health insurance or even sick leave.

For a world in lockdown, the shutdown in the gig economy has meant that platforms are under no obligation to provide financial remuneration to the gig workers for the loss in pay they suffer. This impeding employment risk has perhaps shifted the focus from gig economy and have accentuated the workforce to look for more stable employment options.

However on the positive side, not all sections of gig economy might be affected by the global slowdown. India comprises 70% of gig workers of which 20-25% are those engaged in the formal sector- content writers, software engineers, event planners, etc. Owing to the flexibility and cost effectiveness, the economic downturn has also pushed employers to increase their engagement with the gig workers to buffer for the uncertain road ahead.

A sizeable gig economy continues to operate in India despite the fact that they have not yet been categorized into a laboring class. It has taken a pandemic to realise how serious are the outcomes of this division. This has encouraged the thought leaders and policy makers to accelerate the process of creating laws that safeguards the interest of independent workers.

In short, while there will be an evident decline in the growing trend of the gig workers, the road ahead might not fade out too soon. Once the economy stabilizes and the gig economy will spring back.

What does it signify for us as an HR fraternity?

The gig economy represents an opportunity to access expertise and skills to bring products to market or meet specific goals. Gig talent can also accelerate internal learning by transferring knowledge from the gig worker to employees. We will continue to see a shift toward gig work as talent models are reconstructed to allow for alternative work arrangements that serve both people and companies well.  HR is key to enabling this shift and should be at the forefront to create the gig talent capability for their organization.

–By Bijayalaxmi Pal [Senior Manager, HR- Siemens Ltd.]

Authors bio:

I am an HR professional with over 6 years of work experience as an HR Business Partner. Apart from this I also lead the Talent Management and D&I initiatives for Siemens. This sums up my professional life as an HR where I help Leaders make great Talent decisions to drive business results. I geek out on analytics, succession planning, D&I….basically everything about HR. Jombay identified me as one of the Top 40 ‘Emerging HR Leaders’ in the country in 2019.

Most importantly, I am addicted to TV, know most of the lyrics to Backstreet Boys and Enrique, love to cry at movies (check out Cinema Paradiso for a cry fest!), My husband is the Yin to my Yang.

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