Engaging the “gig economy” workforce

As always, there is a new term that is being banded around by the media – the “gig economy”. So what is the “gig economy”, who are the “gig workforce” and finally, why should you care?

A quick background:

The term “gig” in this context seems to have arisen in 2009 for unemployed workers who turned to casual or self-employed work to make ends meet following the financial crash the preceding year. It takes its name from rock bands who would turn up in a town and play for a few nights to “do a gig”, who in turn took the name from 1920’s Jazz musicians, who probably used it from someone else!

Initially these people were trying to make ends meet after losing their jobs. Yet now this way of working is increasing in popularity as people try to achieve their own work and personal life goals in balance while maintaining a sufficient income. Classic recent examples in the news include Uber, Deliveroo and TaskRabbit.

This gig workforce is growing rapidly and, as leaders in Human Resources, we need to adapt quickly to this changing workforce if we are to engage our people as we have done in the past.

In this ever more complex organisational culture, how do we make all feel included in our organisation’s mission and values proposition?

Let’s think of the needs of a “gig” worker…

The majority of motivators are no different between regular employees and more casual workers, however these needs often manifest themselves in different ways:

1) They need to be onboarded and brought up to speed quickly and smoothly – so they can be productive ASAP, as often they are there for only a limited time.
2) They need to feel they are equal to others around them and not feel like they are in some way inferior to employed staff – i.e. they have a voice, they take part in company rituals, feel like they add to the overall culture and are not outside of it.
3) A gig worker needs their flexibility appreciated by the organisation, not just put up with – they often have other jobs and/or commitments external to the organisation that can conflict with the expectation of total flexibility from the employer.
4) As they are gig workers, their tenure is usually limited so they need to be able to exit the company positively, smoothly and quickly with an ability to gain references without delays for their next “gig”.

How can the Human Resources function better support and equip a “gig” worker?

Firstly, source your gig workers well

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An “on demand” potential workforce needs nurturing. These potential candidates are often more transient than long-term employees and therefore need more to be attracted to your organisation. Many companies now are using adapted CRM tools to “keep warm” pools of potential workers. This used to be restricted to succession planning for your most senior roles, yet now it is more prevalent for roles where workers are needed at short notice and in volume. 

To do this without causing the overload of extra work you need to automate your recruitment and selection processes. This can include:

- Using Resourcing CRM tools to have a pool of talent ready that are periodically made contact with through social media.
- Using job board clustering to get your company brand out to multiple touchpoints to make maximum recruitment impact.
- Having robust selection processes with automated assessment and/or video recruitment stages so recruiting managers only get involved when they are needed.

Secondly, ensure you get real time and relevant feedback from ALL your people

Pulse and poll survey tools have now come of age to support any annual census. If a proportion of your workers are with you for short discrete periods then your annual survey’s relevance is limited.

However, make sure that the data from your pulse and poll survey is compatible to your annual survey. This data is like pure gold. With the rise of true analytics in HR this data can be mined for sentiment and linked to job performance, leadership levels and remuneration for greater insight. Ensure you have a tool that can do all of this so you can include your gig workers feedback into your Engagement Strategy.

Finally, more than ever the leakage and loss of knowledge is becoming paramount to organisations

As we know, every time a worker leaves a company, knowledge is lost. If we now have a workforce where we know a large proportion will leave soon then this is a burning issue. There are great examples out there where organisations have realised this and separated knowledge into what can be written and what can’t be written down.

This latter area is the “leakage”. For example, we can read about how to do a weld, but we need to keep the learned skill from the skilled existing welder who can do a “perfect” weld. Or how do we retain the knowledge of your best sales person who seems to always win the deal? This “knack” is what makes your organisation better than your competition.

This knowledge retention activity is critical for all organisations, but ESPECIALLY if it has a larger proportion of gig workers.

While Governments struggle with how to legislate and protect gig workers, we in HR can lead the way in ensuring we maximise the benefits of this relationship on both sides.

So in summary…

Three ways you can embrace the gig economy and make it a success for your organisation:

1)  Smarten your recruitment and selection processes to find potential gig talent and nurture it.

2)  ENGAGEMENT:  Enhance your feedback mechanisms to be relevant and timely with pulse and poll surveys – AND make sure all your valuable data is mined for insight!

3)  Find ways to retain the type of non-written knowledge that will “leak out” your organisation with a gig workforce and increasing labour turnover.


Thank you for reading!

Anthony Ryland