Since the Industrial Revolution started nearly three centuries ago to this current day, the nature of employment has been in constant flux. From the hard-earned victories of organized labor to the efficiencies gained from mechanization and automation, people have straightened their ties and laced up their work boots to get things done and build a better and bigger world.
We’ve adapted to these changes and for the most part, the trends have moved to provide greater work/life balance.
But if you read the headlines these days, it seems something is amiss: for some, postsecondary degrees don’t go as far as they used to in the job market, increased globalization has led to increased offshoring of once dependable jobs, automation is threatening to replace workers. And then there’s the arrival of the gig economy.
Wait – what’s the gig economy?
While in the U.S., the unemployment rate is at a 17-year low, nearly 1 in 4 workers now earn money from the digital platform economy. For the most part, the gig economy arrived early with temp labor and has been popularized in the context of digital age employers, like Uber, Jiffy and other task-based services, that have led to more and more workers employed on a per job basis – sometimes without the prospect of vacation, sick leave, health benefits or employment certainty.
By jumping from gig to gig, workers could be taking on significant stress, isolation and physical ailments while pursuing precarious work. Another identified impact: struggling to find an authentic work identity when trying to fulfill multiple roles that require different personas.
Another hazard: going it alone can mean you’re at a greater risk of injury, especially when trying to maximize the number of “gigs” you’re doing to earn a greater pay-off. As the Financial Times references, demand for food delivery is often highest when conditions are hazardous, creating a lucrative lure for bike couriers that could lead to injury.
Yet with all the troubling effects that the gig economy could be afflicting on workers, there’s a reason why this article’s title refers to “affecting” instead of “hurting”. The gig economy has freed some workers from the confines of the set 9 to 5 workday and allowed them to work when it’s convenient for their schedules.
Especially for those within a creative sector, the gig economy gives them the opportunity to be able to manage their work by choosing the jobs they want to do; helping avoid the burnout of fulfilling orders passed down by a manager.
So if you’re a worker who is either working “full-time” in the gig economy or moonlighting to earn a few extra dollars on the side, how can you ensure that you’re staying on top of your mental and physical health?
- Budget your time and salary accordingly: given that flexibility is one of the key draws of working in the gig economy, managing your day so you have more personal time is a huge plus. But financial insecurity at the end of the month can cause significant stress. Plan how much you need to earn, stick to a budget and track your progress regularly to keep going strong.
- Know when to rest: maximizing your earnings by working constantly can be alluring but can lead to serious physical and mental health risks. Try to stick to an eight-hour work day at most – there’s a reason why this has become the standard for most developed nations. If you’re stressed, sick or need a break, take it: resting now could save you from burnout and ultimately more necessary time-off down the line.
- Stay social: for many jobs in the gig economy, the work is often independent, which can lead to isolation and its detrimental impacts on mental health. Find ways to engage with those around you, whether they’re clients, other gig workers and even strangers on the street. Take time out of your day to visit or have a phone call with a friend or family member. You’ll feel happier and more connected to the world around you.
We can’t say for sure whether the gig economy is definitively the way of the future. For sure, it’s significantly changed the shape of today’s workforce. In just a few decades, we went from stories of workers that spent their entire careers at one place of employment to those juggling several jobs at once. If you are working in the gig economy, make sure you take the time to take care of yourself and ensure that you’ll be ready to tackle the next gig that comes along.