The era of the 9-5 workday is over, at least for many of us. Those good old days where you pledged your loyalty and productivity to a company and that company provided you with stability, health insurance, competitive compensation, a pension…they are mostly gone.
The pandemic has hastened this evolution, with most non-essential workers finding ways to do their work from home and on changing schedules, but as a 38-year-old mother, all I can say is “welcome to the party.”
I’ve been a worker in the gig economy for a decade, and I had to reinvent myself to get here, waiting for society to catch up.
Side effects of having children
Why? Literally because I had children. That’s not everyone’s story. People have different reasons for having to drop out of the traditional workforce, but this one happens to be mine. I had premature twins while working in television production when we moved to North Central Florida where any job I got wouldn’t cover the cost of childcare. Goodbye, career.
The times are changing
But it wasn’t goodbye. It was a reimagining. In 2019, 30 percent of workers said they participated in the gig economy, but only 10 percent said it was their main source of income. I’m that 10 percent, and we are growing. Forbes estimates 80 percent of workers will participate in the gig economy by 2030.
Is it idyllic? No. It has advantages and drawbacks, just like any other form of work. But it is the future, so we’d better figure out how to do it sustainably.
Pros to working the gig economy:
1) You don’t have a real boss.
You are the only one you truly have to answer to. As a gig worker, I pick and choose my clients. If it’s not a fit, I can walk away without endangering my livelihood and without damaging my reputation in the working world.
2) You can set your own schedule
You can work when you want and where you want. I can take my laptop anywhere. Right now, I’m sitting on my guest bed in my home office. Because I can. No cubicles for me! I can also pick my kids up from school every day at 3:37 p.m. and return home to work at 4:15 p.m. and no one knows or cares that I wasn’t working during that time. If I want to work late at night, so I can take my kids to the park in the afternoon, it’s no big deal. I set my own schedule, and I work in whatever environment I choose.
3) There is no micromanagement
This goes hand-in-hand with the above points, but it’s worth its own segment. I frequently work while watching Netflix, or listening to podcasts. In between projects, or even paragraphs, I can get up, stretch, take a walk, scroll through social media, even play a mindless game on my phone. No one is monitoring my computer. There’s no dress code. My work is just as good if created while I’m wearing sweatpants or a pencil skirt.
4) You are judged by the quality of your work
In the traditional workplace, you are often “graded” on time spent, rather than work completed. Those who can stay late, josh with the boss, organize get-togethers for coworkers—they are lauded for their morale-boosting ways. I like being paid for what I have accomplished. It’s just more quantitative that way. And if an article takes me 30 minutes to write, I get paid the same as if it took me three days.
5) You can choose your projects
We’ve all been tasked with work we don’t want to do in a typical job, be it compiling spreadsheets, transcribing interviews, coming up with big picture solutions or anything else. If I don’t like a project, I can walk away, no harm, no foul.
Cons to working the gig economy:
1) You don’t cultivate long term relationships
The downside to not having a real boss, or real coworkers, is that you lose out on lasting relationships and networking opportunities. You have to be your own mentor and advocate. Each client you earn is a restart from scratch. They must learn to trust you every time anew.
2) You don’t have insurance
I mean, you can have insurance, and you should have insurance, but you won’t have health insurance through your employer.
You’ll have to go through the Marketplace, and sometimes those prices seem steep, with both deductibles and premiums, so keep that in mind when you set your price for projects. You can also opt for smaller group insurances, or try your luck buying your own private insurance.
Sometimes unions or other groups of freelancing workers apply for group rates, which can be cheaper. Many freelancers and gig economy workers make little enough to qualify for Medicaid in some form or another. And forget about dental. Keep all this in mind if you have a family to support.
3) You don’t get typical benefits
It’s not just health insurance: what about life insurance and pension plans? You are on your own. Trying to buy a house? You might not qualify for a loan. Banks don’t yet understand workers who don’t have W-2s to prove steady income. Pay-check to pay-check work is looked at as a risk.
4) You have to withhold your own taxes
Keep meticulous and detailed notes and records, not only of your various gigs and deadlines, but also of your money owed and money earned. Each contract you sign under a W-9 means no taxes are being withheld. You are responsible for that. Depending on how much you make, this is a quarter to a third of the money you see in those checks. And the government prefers you pay quarterly, rather than yearly. If you are making enough to make a living, expect to owe.
5) The hustle is real (and it is hard)
Every minute you aren’t producing is a minute you are not getting paid. Forget sick days. You get them, of course, but they put you behind. You have to be working to get that paycheck.
I haven’t taken a true vacation in 10 years. At the beach, I’m on my computer. If I visit my family, I’m alone in the office for hours a day. I work all day, all night, every day, every night. Weekends included. Not only that, but the pay isn’t regular. Some clients pay well, others poorly. Some pay right away, others wait up to 90 days before cutting you a check. It’s up to you to monitor when that money will come in, and whether it is worth it.
You can make up to six figures living the freelance, gig life, but you really do have to work for it. As we continue to move in that direction, it will be up to the gig workers themselves to push for protections and basic work rights, through legislation and policy. At the end of the day, you know what you can do, and what you can’t. Go out there and make your money, but don’t let them exploit you just because they can.