The Problem with the Gig Economy

June 21st, 2019

Most people take a career to be in a position of management.  When many of today’s managers began their careers, they interviewed with a company, got the job, and steadily worked their way up and around the company.  There was no “Gig Economy.”

One of the common complaints we as recruiters hear about applicants is that they are “job hoppers.”  Like this is something bad or implies that the applicant does not have the stick-to-it-iv-ness necessary to become part of that manager’s team.  I would ask these managers to look instead at their own (or their company’s) practices.

Way back when, we used to value employees, and work with them through bad times and good.  The idea of “at-will” employment was generally saved for those employees who were genuinely NOT performing.  Today, we use “at-will” employment to cut costs, at the end of projects, and for non-performance.  In other words, leaving a job often has little or nothing to do with the employee’s performance or stick-to-it-iv-ness.

On the other side, employees feel that their employers have no vested interest in them.  Even if their direct manager “likes” them, everyone knows that layoffs can happen at any time.  Knowing that every individual is interested in self-preservation, the natural response is to award the lack of loyalty or security in a job with the same.  Thus, the current work force feels abandoned by their employers and are constantly looking to find a better place to work.  In my informal interviews with employees, I have rarely been told that they want to stay with (current company) forever, or even for the next 5 years.  More commonly, the employee is looking to make a move in 2-3 years at most, once they feel that they have learned a particular skill that will serve them well with their career.

Since they are feeling like their job is temporary, employees look towards what matters more.  Family, experiences, living life.  Hence, we get requests and demands for more work-life balance, for family time, for vacations and sabbaticals.  Honestly, I feel the same way!

Enter the Gig Economy.  On one hand, the idea of job hopping is simply a way for the employee to control their life and career.  Even if they find a good position, it is rare to find one with any level of permanence.  By joining up as a contractor, theoretically, the employee is more in control, and the leaving of the job becomes at a set time.  The employee learns a skill that they feel furthers their career, or maybe piques their interest.  The employer staffs up for a project with the security of knowing that it is just temporary and avoids the hard feelings of letting someone go.  Everyone knows the gig is temporary.

Back to the beginning …. Many mangers are from the generation where jobs were more stable. Or they think that moving from job to job is a negative, not a positive effort to learn marketable skills. They expect to see stability.  There are some employees who have stayed in jobs for many years, but most of the resumes we see show that employees have had more than two or three jobs in the past 5 years. They are often part of the Gig Economy, or they have been subject to layoffs.  With older employees we see more stability, but many companies are looking for newer skills. Until we start valuing skills and either change the way companies view employees or accept that members of the Gig Economy are not lazy or bad performers, we will continue to have the disconnect between the “job-hopper” workforce and the current ideal of the “perfect” employee.

I urge managers to simply ask “why” when reviewing a resume.  Your next best employee may be in that stack of resumes.

-Deb Schneider, CEO

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