Will the gig economy replace the job for life?

Are the days of a ‘job for life’ long gone? Here, we examine the recent rise of the gig economy and its impact on modern working practices.

The UK’s gig economy is booming, with more people than ever before choosing to work for themselves. According to statistics released last year, one in seven UK workers which equates to a record-high of 4.8 million people are now enjoying the freedom of being self-employed. Research has also suggested that just 6 per cent of workers do the traditional hours of 9am to 5pm.

Are the days of a ‘job for life’ long gone? Today there certainly seem to be more opportunities than ever for people looking to pick and choose where they work and how long for. The economic crisis ten years ago spurred many people who lost their jobs to rethink their future career prospects, while others have chosen a different approach to earning a living to reduce stress levels and improve their work-life balance.

Working what suits you best

The flexibility that comes with contracting or freelancing is a hugely attractive prospect to many. Matt Tyson, managing director of freelancer support service Workr Group, says that some of the contractors his company works with choose to work for just six months a year, while others choose to work school hours only, taking all the school holidays off too. ‘That’s the beauty of working for yourself – the way you work is up to you,’ he adds.

The long-term future for contracting looks buoyant; it’s become an accepted part of working life and we’re witnessing progressive organisations benefit from being able to develop and retain a flexible workforce as a key part of their talent strategy. Using contractors is a no brainer for many businesses – they get to bring in extra resource, and access certain specialist skill sets they may not have a long-term need for, as and when they require them.

It’s often a more cost-effective solution for businesses too as they have the flexibility to hire someone on a per project basis, with no PAYE or national insurance contribution administration. Contractors can also typically start work quickly or at short notice and offer a solution for covering extended periods of staff absence.

Mixing up the team

To get the most out of these temporary workers from initial engagement through to completion of the contracted work it’s essential that permanent employees understand what he or she has been brought in to do and the benefit to the business. Businesses should also make clear to their new temporary hire the objective of the role and scope of the work and what they need to deliver with key project milestones.

For contractors, there are many benefits to be your own boss, there are however risks too. From a Workr Group survey of 150 UK-based contractors, freelancers and temporary workers, the most popular reason for 48 per cent of respondents for adopting a more flexible lifestyle was the prospect of having more disposable income. It’ll come as no surprise to learn that for almost half of respondents (45 per cent), the second most popular reason was an improved work-life balance. Reduced stress was also a key reason for over a third (36 per cent) of respondents.

However, there are downsides too, as 37 per cent of respondents admitted they found life as contractor more financially risky, with 40 per cent claiming they dislike the uncertainty of not knowing where their next assignment is coming from. We also asked contractors what they missed most about being employed full time and their top five answers were:

  • Being entitled to sick pay
  • Receiving staff benefits such as pensions and other perks
  • Holiday entitlement
  • A regular monthly payment
  • An employer contributing to my pension

Tyson says that, for all Workr’s contractors, none of the above were considered enough to tempt them back into full time employment and all were happy to continue enjoying the multitude of benefits that come with working for themselves.

The survey respondents also shared some of their main concerns for the future of contracting. Top of the list was that rates of pay may be impacted by increased competition for work. Contractors are worried that with more and more people deciding to work for themselves, businesses will be able to name their price. A third of the contractors also think that soon there will be more contractors or freelance workers than actual employees, putting the pressure on finding new opportunities.

Contractors were also asked to reveal what advice they’d give to anyone considering swapping permanent employment for working for themselves. The top three tips from the contractors were:

Broaden your skillsets

As the contractor landscape becomes more competitive, it’s important to consider what you have to offer a prospective client. The more relevant skills you have, the likelihood of you being able to pick and choose work becomes greater. And, with competition for assignments on the rise, it’s important to consider broadening your capabilities to enhance your prospects of winning work.

Seek advice

Working for yourself means making your own PAYE and tax arrangements. Sounds complicated, and it can be! Most of the contractors we surveyed, recommended seeking professional advice on sorting out your financial arrangements or even working with an umbrella company to ensure you get paid on time, every time and your tax arrangements are dealt with correctly.

Get to grips with legislation

Tyson says that all contractors need to have a good understanding of any existing and proposed legislation and its implications for them. An example of this is IR35. This legislation was designed to stop contractors working as ‘disguised employees.’ It’s important that contractors understand the ramifications of any legislation that may have an impact on them and what it would mean if they fall foul of HRMC rules.

‘Life as a contractor comes with its highs and lows and this approach to work is likely to become more and more commonplace as the world of work moves on from the 9 to 5 of yesteryear,’ Tyson adds.

‘However, taking the plunge to give up a regular, secure income can be a big decision. The good news is that there’s plenty of professional advice and services on offer to help you on your way.’

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

Related Topics

The Gig Economy