Since 2014, the “gig economy” workforce has grown three times as fast as the traditional workforce. A major reason for this shift is that for the first time in history, young professionals are able to earn a living by doing what they love, rather than simply doing what they need to do in order to receive a paycheck.
In a previous installment of the “Road to Individualism,” I discussed how technology has made it easier for younger professionals to practice specialization and thus, individualization, in the workforce. Since the internet has allowed us to connect with diverse people from all over the globe, it has become easier than ever for consumers to express their demand and easier for producers to respond accordingly.
From Etsy to Patreon, entrepreneurial young people are finding ways to earn money by pursuing their individual passions. But this ambition to do what they love is deterring young professionals from entering the traditional workforce. And unless the business world adjusts to meet these demands, we may see a decreased number of people wanting to be strapped to a desk from 9-5 each day.
Meeting Employee Demands
Just like producers must meet the needs of their consumers in order to stay afloat, so must employers adjust their offerings in order to appeal to prospective employees. But currently, this is not happening. Many traditional employers are expecting tech-savvy young people to mold to their version of business as usual while failing to see how the gig economy has redefined the demands of the modern American employee.
According to Linkedin, over the next decade, “gig” workers are expected to make up the majority of the entire workforce. In 2017, 57 million people qualified as participants in the gig economy, according to the Upwork and the Freelancers Union. But what does this mean for employers?
If I were a producer selling a product no one wanted, I would have to adjust if I wanted anyone to attract any consumers. But even though the traditional workforce is depleting, the business world is still struggling to adjust their models to cater to the young professional.
Many of today’s young Americans are entering the workforce already burdened by debt. As student loan debt has now surpassed the amount of credit card debt held by Americans, it is no surprise that many young people work more than one job.
In addition to debt, many young Americans are graduating from college and realizing that their degrees do not do much to secure a job in the real world. This has led many to utilize the sharing economy, either in times of career limbo, or to supplement their income.
New opportunities like Uber have made it easier to earn extra money, but the gig economy has also enticed young Americans with a new type of employment model where they can work as they please.
The Outdated Office Model
Historically, a steady 9-5 job was the staple of a successful professional life. But now this is changing. Many young people are realizing that the typical 9-5 workday is incompatible with individualism. If an employee is creating value for their organization, it should make no difference what hours they work so long as the work is done.
Likewise, technological advances no longer make it necessary to be in an office setting from day to day. Skype and other video call platforms make face to face interaction easier than ever. Platforms like Slack make real-time communication with coworkers as easy and as entertaining as communicating Facebook. Yet, many employers are still hesitant to give their employees the freedom to move towards a more flexible workplace model. And as a result, young people are simply rejecting the outdated office place model.
When Upwork asked workers why they chose the freelance model to the 9-5 office model, 87 percent said it was a matter of independence. In fact, many also responded that there was no amount of money that would convince them to take a regular office job instead of freelancing.
While the workplace is a voluntary obligation, it is also one that is not immune to market demand. If organizations want to appeal and retain younger employees, they will need to adjust their models to meet the needs of individual employees.