The gig economy’s here to stay. Here’s how everyone can benefit

The perfect desk? Depends who you ask.
The perfect desk? Depends who you ask.
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Loi Stoddard-Graham is Vice President, Planning & Business Development for MetLife Global Employee Benefits at MetLife, Inc. She has more than 15 years of experience in insurance, focusing on global employee benefits. She also has held various roles within MetLife, including assistant vice president in Financial Planning and Analysis for the Americas and Chief of Staff for U.S. Employee Benefits Sales.

For those of us in a traditional work environment, there’s a certain allure to seeing people, mid-afternoon, jamming away on their laptops at a coffee shop. We have good reason: gig workers have more flexibility in their schedules and more control over the type of projects they take on. It should come as no surprise that 30 million American workers rely on gig work as their primary income source with another 15 million workers supplementing traditional full-time work with gigging. That’s nearly a third of the total U.S. workforce.

As today’s workforce continues to evolve with various avenues of employment and sources of income, MetLife is advancing the gig economy conversation by shedding more light on this important segment of the workforce through its latest report, “The Gig Economy: Opportunities, Challenges, and Employer Strategies”—a deep dive mined from MetLife’s 17th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS)—which looks to understand the opportunities and challenges gig presents for employers.

It’s time for businesses to take the gig economy seriously and shift their own strategy in attracting and retaining both traditional and freelance workers accordingly.

Pursuing the ultimate work-life blend

The gig economy—which includes work based on a fixed-term contract or that is paid per project by a company, third party, or online marketplace—has risen from 10% in 2005 to nearly 16% in 2015 in workforce share.

If that stat doesn’t make employers take notice, this one will: according to MetLife’s EBTS report, 67% of full-time employees expressed interest in gig work over their current traditional jobs. What this tells us is that more people today are turning to gig in the pursuit of the ultimate work-life blend. That’s largely because the gig economy enables workers to do what they want, when they want—selecting projects they can connect with, and ones that provide a sense of purpose.

MetLife’s report also found nearly half (47%) of gig workers say they work to gain a sense of fulfillment and self-worth, and that they are more satisfied with their current freelance and contract work than their previous traditional work roles (45%). Gig workers see work as necessary to fulfilling their higher needs—that is, focusing on work which resonates with their interests and values. In fact, one in three say that purposeful work would attract them to a full-time job.

This sense of career autonomy is appealing to the masses. While common opinion would have us believe today’s gig economy is wholly comprised of Millennials and ride-share apps—the reality is, the gig economy is significantly more complex. MetLife’s research uncovered today’s gig workers are comprised of Gen Z (21%), Gen X (21%) and Baby Boomers (25%), in addition to Millennials (34%).

Embracing the gig economy

Despite the allure of flexible schedules and work autonomy, gig workers still face mounting challenges. Financial anxieties are the number one stressor for gig workers, according to MetLife’s EBTS, and tie back to a lack of benefits offerings in contract work. Few employers today offer subsidized benefits to their gig population, if at all. Only 4% of gig workers report their employer offers medical insurance and only 5% say their employer offers a retirement plan.

This is a missed opportunity for employers—43% of gig workers say employers can offer better benefits to attract them to consider a full-time job. To prevent full-time talent from leaving, and simultaneously attract more gig workers for contracts or full-time roles, employers need to leverage flexibility, and customized benefits.

Conversely, by creating experiences within the workplace that offer the same gig-like diversity of projects, purpose-driven work and flexibility, employers can also satisfy full-time employees’ interest in gig work.

Rethink your gig strategy

If MetLife’s research indicates anything, it’s that a good portion of today’s workforce enjoy gig work and that’s not likely to change. Some of the best talent might only be accessed out-of-house.

In a candidate’s market—where unemployment is low and those looking for jobs have their pick of opportunities—businesses need a robust benefits strategy to make their workplace attractive beyond the work itself. To remain competitive for the best talent, it’s pivotal to not only evolve your offerings, but also expand to include benefits for gig workers.

Recognizing that existing benefit strategies may not always meet today’s gig workers’ needs, MetLife is currently exploring the gig space through research initiatives and in-market testing to develop solutions that will better resonate with and bring value to this growing segment of the workforce.

Read the full 2019 U.S. EBTS report to learn more about MetLife’s insights for helping your employees thrive in the new “work-life” world.