How Managers Can Best Support a Gig Workforce

The rise of digital giants in the gig economy has brought new scrutiny to how companies should manage contingent workers.

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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In the coming months, IPOs from big tech companies like Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and DoorDash won’t just draw attention and funds from investors on Wall Street. The disclosures these companies provide are likely to bring new scrutiny to how they — and, by extension, the gig economy in general — manage workers.

Already, some members of Congress are looking to step up protections for workers who try to cobble together a living through contingent and alternative arrangements. As Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said when reintroducing legislation in February, “Changes in the nature of work mean that Americans are more likely to change jobs and be engaged in nontraditional forms of work than they were a generation ago,” but federal policies have not evolved along with these economic shifts.

Having cofounded an app, Steady, to help people find sources of income in this economy, I see every day just how badly many workers are struggling. More than 4 million Americans are working part time for economic reasons, meaning they could not find full-time work or have received reduced hours due to economic slack.

Even among those who get enough hours to work full time, most don’t receive benefits. And if they lose their jobs, most gig workers cannot collect unemployment.

This problem is only going to grow. A 2017 NPR/Marist poll found that 1 in 5 jobs is held by a worker under contract and that within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half the workforce.

It isn’t just the workers who lose out due to this lack of stability. When people are grappling with financial stress, their health and productivity suffer. That stress is rampant among workers in general; 78% of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck, and nearly 40% have a side hustle.

But the unpredictability gig workers can face, with income often varying month to month, can make their plight even worse.

To help workers with contingent or alternative arrangements in any industry, from sales to construction, here are three important steps managers can take.

Schedule at least two weeks out. Companies that allow people to work any time, like Instacart or TaskRabbit, get a lot of attention. But most of the jobs in the gig economy don’t have this kind of flexibility.

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
More in this series

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