Just as we tend to view some positions as more prestigious than others (e.g., doctor or lawyer compared to janitor), there's also a social hierarchy when it comes to worker type. Full-time, payrolled employees traditionally have been at the top, because being at one employer for an extended period of time implies stability and the intelligence to get it.
But now, the tide is turning. Experts predict that 43 percent of the workforce will be freelance as part of the gig economy by 2020. And as a result of this huge shift, temporary and hourly workers are finally enjoying some overdue social respect.
What's driving up worker status
"It used to be the expectation that you'd work the same 9-to-5 job, Monday through Friday, for years of your life," says Yong Kim, CEO and co-founder of online job platform Wonolo. "In my parent's generation, it wasn't uncommon to spend your entire career slowly climbing the ranks within the same company.
"Then there was an overcorrection in the market: Employees young and old entering the workforce had a hard time finding work due to factors like the financial crisis and crippling student loan debt. As a result, attitudes began to shift, as workers of all ages turned to on-demand platforms to find work. It allowed the conversation and expectations around what it means to have a job to shift. Even stay-at-home parents or retirees could find a way to pick up this flexible work lifestyle without question or judgment. That, and technological advancements like the advent of the smartphone, led to a boom in on-demand work, with food delivery or ride-hailing apps offering flexibility and accessibility to work.
"Now, with the economy in better shape and unemployment rates at a low, it's an employee's job market. Companies are starting to realize that to compete with non-traditional jobs, they have to start paying competitively, offering flexible schedules, and actually listening to what employees want. That puts employees in a position to be selective about the gigs they pick up, the hours they work, and the people they work with--and it's an exciting time for companies to take advantage of that shift."
Kim points out, too, that many employers--particularly those that offer retail and warehouse jobs--won't staff workers more than 29 hours a week. That means the workers have to supplement their jobs with other options. So, whereas before freelancing was seen as more of a risky, voluntary choice, now people grasp that it might be the only solution a worker has. We thus accept their work because we know being temporary or hourly is "not necessarily their fault" or based on anything they did or did not do.
A deep well of skills
Part of the reason temporary and hourly workers have been at the bottom of the worker totem pole is that we assume that it takes skills to nab an in-demand payroll job and contribute to a company consistently. If you can't do that, well, you must not have skills, right?
"The reality is, temporary or hourly work requires a varying amount of skill sets and the ability to think on your feet in a lot of situations," says Kim. "Many temp workers are a jack- or jill-of-all-trades. It might seem to full-time employees that temporary workers come in with limited experience, but often they have the right skills and background to plug-and-play in any situation."
Kim adds that people now are starting to understand that, because temporary and hourly workers can plug-and-play with real talent, there's no reason to shove extra work on regular employees who are already overloaded.
How we can even the playing field even more
Even though our attitude toward temporary and hourly workers is shifting, there's still room for growth.
1. Have regular employees work temporary or hourly jobs so they see firsthand what the workers experience and need. Kim uses this empathy-promoting strategy himself at Wonolo, requiring all corporate employees to work one Wonolo job per quarter. He asserts that the Wonolo jobs he's worked himself have left him humbled and enlightened.
2. Communicate and set expectations from the start. "Employers need to be completely clear what they're looking for in temporary hires," Kim says. "It means being clear about the time parameters involved for the project, the skills required for the job, the expected outcome, and the potential (if any) for growth at the end. Flexible or temporary workers need to be clear about their past experience, over-communicate any issues they might have with the requirements, and their desired outcome from the job. [...] Being completely clear in your intentions going into these roles--like your career trajectory, salary, and schedule requirements--eliminates room for confusion or disappointments."
3. Recognize work well done. Workers who use the Wonolo platform are given awards in their local community and celebrated at Wonolo networking events. They also receive nods on Wonolo's social-media and blog accounts. That recognition helps the workers feel valued and more connected to the regular workers who also are recognized and praised. Other types of support, such as mentoring and serving as a good reference, can get across that you believe in non-payrolled workers, too.
The reality of work is very different than it used to be. In fact, two out of three executives say they depend on non-payrolled workers to survive. But we can see the growing social equality between the types of workers as a positive benefit. So if you want or need to freelance, go for it. In the same way, if you need a hand in your business, look beyond the workers you already pay. Either way, we're not looking down on you anymore.