The Bureau of Labor Got the Gig Economy Wrong
In 2005, before the proliferation of the smart phone, laptop computer, and other now-fixtures of the mobile work experience, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics released its last report on Contingent and Alternative Labor Arrangements. The report, which measured the number of workers who operate outside of the traditional 9-5, was a benchmark for what we refer today as “the gig economy.” It measured 10.7 percent of American employees as independent contractors, on-call, workers, or those working for third-party contractors. With the near complete transformation of the workplace over the last decade, the latest iteration of the report issued last week was largely projected to reveal a massive increase in this percentage, given the rise of apps like Uber or TaskRabbit. That wasn’t the case.
The latest Department of Labor Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements Summary instead found a decrease in alternative arrangements to the tune of .08 percent. Curious, given that our own research has found that 56 percent of workers prefer a job with no set hours and 89 percent look for jobs that offer flexibility. For more than half of employees, this issue is so important that they would rather quit their jobs than lose the ability to work flexibly. The disconnect, is that the BLS is operating a baseline definition of work that largely ignores the massive workplace transformation impacting businesses over the last 13 years since the report was last conducted. Furthermore, the report itself struggles with a coherent definition.
In actuality, the ‘gig economy’ has quickly become a preferable (and now a viable) option for a large number of workers. Today’s employees are less bound to traditional ideas of what work can be than their predecessors. Mobile technology has blurred the lines of our professional and personal lives, empowering us to work in a way that best suites our individual strengths rather than having to conform to the construct of set hours or offices. The study, which traces its origins back to 1995, does not take into account the rapidly changing pace at which workplace trends evolve as a result of the technology that powers it. Work is something one does, not a place one goes.
The future of work is irreversibly linked to the relationship between employees and their workplace tools. We hamstring ourselves in understanding how we can best support our employees and strategize for a post-digital transformation economy by adhering to an outdated set of definitions. In many ways, any remote employee could be considered as a contribution to the gig economy. Employees today value flexibility unlike any other aspect of their job – it’s time we take a page from their book in how we view the workforce.
For more about the rise of employee flexibility and other trends shaping the future of work, check out our latest infographic.