The Gig Economy: Has Uber Ruined it for the Rest of us?

Recently the New York Times ran an op-ed piece entitled The Gig Economy’s False Promise. As the headline suggests, the piece argued that the reality of the gig economy is one where workers are “manipulated into working long hours for low wages.”

Unsurprisingly, the issue has bubbled up into the political space, and there are reports that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is planning to tighten the laws regarding the classification of workers as employees or independent contractors to tackle the issue.

In response to the recent wafe of skeptical coverage, I feel it is important to give an alternative perspective on the gig economy.

Plat4orm PR, like many small businesses, relies on a mix of employees and independent contractors to deliver a business model that works both for clients and our team.

I have and do work with an array of seasoned and super-savvy PR professionals who chosen to be independent contractors. Some are seeking work/life balance after years of 60-hour weeks. Some are parents of young children seeking a flexible schedule to juggle the demands of parenthood while maintaining a viable career. Others are would-be entrepreneurs keen to try their hand at starting their own business. And then there are those who have just grown tired of office politics and long commutes.

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From our clients’ perspective, there are multiple benefits, but the primary benefit is that they gain access to senior talent as and when it is needed at a more affordable rate than the larger agencies of the world. The simple fact is, many of the consultants we work with would be out of the price range of our clients if they were based in large agencies or hired internally.

No one is proposing the abolition of full-time employees. Many companies will continue to hire permanent staff. There are numerous benefits to investing in people in the long term and nurturing their talent in the hope they will become an integral part of the company’s future success story. However, employees’ lives evolve, as do the needs and demands of a company, and the gig economy is particularly well-suited to meeting the evolving needs of individuals and organizations.

In its annual prediction of workplace trends, Forbes cited a number of studies to support its view that the “blended workforce” will continue to grow in importance, and that companies will increasingly rely on a combination of permanent employees and freelance staff. Yes, this does allow companies to cut costs on benefits, but it also allows them to hire the best people as they need them, particularly companies in the small- to-medium enterprise space that struggle to compete for talent with larger corporations.

The Ubers, Lyfts and Instacarts of the world are called unicorns for a reason: they are the exception. The majority of businesses leveraging the gig economy model are small businesses. And that economy would never have thrived if there weren’t demand on all sides – businesses seeking freelance staff, and workers seeking more flexible options.

There is no utopia and the current system is certainly far from perfect. I share the widespread concerns over mercenary methods of some companies looking to extract maximum work for minimum price, and fully support efforts to ensure a basic level of protection for workers of all kinds. And I also share the concern that mandatory employer systems and processes must be in place to ensure that all workers get an appropriate level of protection.

But I am not convinced over-regulation is the right response, nor am I convinced that the gig economy is an economy where workers are necessarily poorer. This new gig economy fosters individual workers who take 100% accountability for their work life. I think that’s something to celebrate.

The reality is that it’s the workers’ decision when and how they work. Gig economy workers can choose where they want to work, how much time they wish to put in earning money and how much risk they are comfortable taking. They are the ones who decide whether they are underemployed or dissatisfied with more conventional work, and whether it makes sense to work part-time or full-time with the “unicorns” like Uber.

And while the shift goes on, small businesses, their clients and freelance workers who have thrived because of this new economy will continue work together when it makes sense for all parties – to their mutual benefit.