Realities of gig working

All that glitters is not gold

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A full-time employee may find working as a freelancer or a gig worker fascinating in many ways. After all, freelancers appear to have all the autonomy and flexibility to manage their work. That is not all. They even get to choose whom to work for and what days to work on! And the icing on the cake is that they do not have a boss breathing down their neck all the time. Quite a rosy picture, huh? Alas! All that glitters is not gold!

The reality for gig workers is way different from how it is perceived. These ‘independent workers’ have a lot of challenges as well, and these challenges are very different from those faced by full-time employees.

For instance, Sheetal, who has been an interior designer for over a decade now, is an independent professional. She gets her projects online and has a set of clients that she works for. Looking at her time schedule, she has a lot of flexibility in terms of where and when she wants to work. However, at times, she often has to work on weekends and public holidays just to be able to meet the deadlines set by her clients.

One time, when her mother fell ill, Sheetal was unable to work for 10 days, but her client’s deadline was sacrosanct, and they needed the deliverables on time. Therefore, she had to work on weekends and even on public holidays.

“Freelancers have to invest in their own upkskilling themselves”

Jayesh Sampat, senior HR leader

If a full-time employee falls sick or has to take care of a patient at home, he or she is bound to receive some support from the manager and the organisation and may not have to stretch too much.

Manish Majumdar, head – HR, EMS, Centum Electronics, mentions that working as an independent professional actually restricts one in many ways. “The relationship dynamics are very different in case of independent workers, who are more like service providers for their clients. They will be expected to deliver anyhow. Employees, on the other hand, may be able to enjoy some relaxation,” shares Majumdar.

Another challenge for freelancers is upskilling. Employees have employers to invest in their upskilling, but freelancers have to coach and upskill themselves.

As an independent interior designer, Sheetal attends various seminars and workshops, and not all of them are free. She has to pay the fee from her own pocket and also spend on conveyance, just to stay updated on the upcoming trends in her field. There is no option, because as an independent worker no one else but she alone is worried about her upskilling.

“Freelancers have to invest in their own upkskilling themselves,” points out Jayesh Sampat, senior HR leader.

Consistency of income is yet another challenge that most freelancers face. Many a time, Sheetal is seen travelling the country with her husband and kids, but she has to keep a close check on her expenses, because her income is not fixed.

Full-time employees, on the other hand, have less to worry on that front. Whether there is too much work or no work at all, they receive a fixed monthly salary that they are entitled to and also enjoy paid leaves. For freelancers, some months may be prosperous, while other months may be lean and rather tight in terms of finances.

“The relationship dynamics are very different in case of independent workers, who are more like service providers for their clients. They will be expected to deliver anyhow. Employees, on the other hand, may be able to enjoy some relaxation”

Manish Majumdar, head – HR, EMS, Centum Electronics

“Independent workers need to be resilient, especially in situations of rejection of work. Income may not be consistent. Additionally, freelancers need to be more disciplined and good at time management. After all, the days they are not working, are the days of no income,” observes Majumdar. The fact remains that while freelancers / gig workers may enjoy a lot of flexibility, they will have to manage that flexibility in a disciplined manner.

The gig workforce today is over 20 lakh strong, with 47 per cent working jobs that require mid-level skills. About 22 per cent are engaged in high-level skilled jobs while the rest are working in jobs requiring low level of skills (as per a report by NITI Ayog).

India, however, is yet to make optimal use of the available gig talent. “In India, organisations are not evolved enough to utilise gig workers. Managers find they have less control over gig workers who appear to have no accountability in terms of deliverables. That means, they do not take responsibility for anything that goes wrong,” admits Sampat. In countries such as the US, the relationship between the organisations and gig employees has very much evolved. The latter are responsible for the final outcome of the work assigned to them.

Clearly, gig work is not as easy as it seems or sounds. In India, gig workers are still not entitled to any employee benefits that regular employees enjoy. As HR leaders point out, in order to succeed, freelancers need to be highly resilient and disciplined self-managers.

Their survival also depends on their psychological orientation. If they can work independently without being concerned about how they are adding value to the final outcome of a project, they will be at ease. They will excel if they are constant learners, quick and spontaneous, and happy not being attached to a single employer.

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