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Is the Gig Economy the Best Future of Work?
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Breanne Dyck.
I’ve seen a lot of articles popping up lately talking about the "future of work."
The exact details vary, of course, but the general sentiment is that in the not-too-far-off-future, we're going to see a dramatic shift away from traditional employee-employer relationships.
In the future, the story goes, we'll embrace the freedom that comes from being free agents. Contractors, not beholden to any one organization, free to work when we want, how we want, for whomever we want.
And I have to tell you ...
I hope that's not where we're headed.
It's not a very popular thing for me to say, especially in the online business circles that I frequent. There, like in many industries around the world, the trend is to create ever-increasing revenue and profit by hiring contractors, freelancers, and other gig economy employees.
In doing so, the theory goes, we create more freedom, more flexibility, and more personal fulfillment for ourselves and for those who work for us.
But I don't believe it's true.
The Freedom the Gig Economy Offers Is Often an Illusion
There's a story I read once about a group of researchers.
These researchers took a group of children to a beautiful, expansive park in the middle of the city. "Go play!" they told the kids.
And the kids did. They ran around, shrieking as they played tag and other games. As they did, the researchers stood on the sidelines and noticed something interesting. For the most part, the kids stayed pretty close together, in the middle of the park.
Later, the researchers took the children to another park. It was the same situation: a beautiful, expansive park in the middle of the city. "Go play!" they again told the kids.
Again, the kids took off running and shouting. But this time, they didn't stay as closely congregated. This time, they spread out through the whole of the park—racing from end to end, out to the very outer reaches.
What was the difference, you ask?
In the second park, there was a fence around the outside.
As it turns out, boundaries are one of the major determining factors when it comes to how much freedom one experiences.
It's true in the workplace, too. We think that by creating a work environment where there are no stated boundaries — where everyone is a free agent, able to work when, where, and for whomever they want — we are creating freedom.
The truth, however, is that most of us crave the freedom that comes from having structure around us. More traditional models of work can offer that in a way the gig economy simply cannot.
One Is the Loneliest Number
In my day-to-day, I speak with a LOT of people who have their own businesses. Some are freelancers and solo-operators; others have multi-million dollar enterprises with a team of 40.
No matter how “big” their business is, though, there's one thing I hear over and over again:
How LONELY they are.
Despite often being in community with other entrepreneurs, or surrounded by a world-class team, this sense of loneliness persists — and it's not just my experience that bears this out.
It's the reason why many entrepreneurs are choosing to leave behind very successful businesses. They want to be part of a team, to feel as though they are contributing to something without being the one ultimately responsible for it. To not feel the loneliness that is endemic among entrepreneurs.
The truth is, entrepreneurial loneliness is a “real thing.” A study of French entrepreneurs has even led some researchers to argue that loneliness is a leading cause of burnout.
But what’s more, the research indicates that this loneliness is exacerbated when the person does not have an “entrepreneurial orientation”. The truth is that while entrepreneurship is a great path for many, not everyone is well suited to the life of “being one’s own boss.”
It’s something that many advocates of the gig economy seem to turn a blind eye to: just because you are happy in the owner’s seat, doesn’t mean everyone is.
The World Doesn’t Need More Freelancers — It Needs More Great Jobs
At the end of the day, not everyone wants to be their own boss. Many people want to go to work, do what’s expected of them, and go home at the end of the day. There’s nothing wrong with this.
What is wrong is that, for many of those same people, going to work means putting themselves in a situation to be devalued, mistreated, or even abused. It can range from systemic discrimination and harassment to simply not having your judgment trusted or being micromanaged by your boss. Even the businesses that win the “employer of the year” awards aren’t exempt from this.
I know because before I started my business, that’s where I found myself.
I remember what it felt like to sit in my boss’ office, fighting back tears, as she berated me and called me stupid. Feeling lower than the lowest low. Feeling worthless. Feeling like I had tried so hard to do everything right … how could I have possibly been so wrong?
Looking back on it, that was the beginning of the end for my corporate career. I left the office that day, resolving that I would never be bullied like that again.
Years later, though, after becoming an entrepreneur and starting to build my own team, I realized that it was never going to be enough to ensure I was never bullied again. Instead, I started to realize I had the potential to create a space where no one would ever be bullied again. Where every day, every single person could show up and be incredibly valued, contribute at the highest level, and reach their highest potential.
Because that, to me, is what being a business owner is all about.
My job, as I see it today, is to change the world for those who won’t ever be entrepreneurs. It’s to build companies that provide true freedom, flexibility, and personal fulfillment for its team members, without forcing them to shoulder the burdens of entrepreneurial loneliness or to create a business when it’s really just not their thing.
So yes, I hope that the future doesn’t look like a universal gig economy.
Instead, I hope that we can — employees and employers together — create the kinds of companies that we all always have longed to work for. (Tweet this.)
The kinds that change the way people take care of themselves and their families; that address socio-economic gaps; that create opportunities for those who lack them; that change how we as a society treat each other …
Whether one chooses to be an entrepreneur or not.