April 22, 2021

The nature of work has changed. The traditional employer-employee relationship is no longer the single standard.


"We have reached a point where free agency has become a far more mainstream career option. It is now common, attractive, and not as sharply differentiated from corporate life as in the past. If the tide is taking us into that world, then the sensible course of action is to learn to swim with the tide." A quote from the book, Lead the Work - Navigating a World Beyond Employment, co-authored by Mercer’s own, Ravin Jesuthasan.


The gig economy has arrived

75M individuals in the US workforce are now freelancing


Business has often been about the big beating the small. Today, however, we can see that it is more about being the fastest to market – and this definitely applies to the boom we are seeing in gig, freelance, contract and sole proprietor businesses in the US and globally. 


Gig is small, they are fast and nimble and can react to market changes quickly. In the US alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that over 57 million workers are freelancing, of which 30 million rely on freelance as their primary source of income.


Understanding the growing need for this workforce


All of us are aware of the gig or freelance workforce – specifically accountants, lawyers, Allied Health professionals and so forth – that have historically been sole proprietors. The emergence or acceleration of the gig economy has also created new markets for freelancers. Scientists, researchers and engineers are moving into this space in growing numbers.


KolabTree claims to be the UpWork or Uber for scientists. KolabTree connects scientists with companies that need temporary help. Founder Ashmita Das shared the following story of a company’s need to hire temporary science expertise. “We’re developing a product; this is a list of ingredients. The pH isn’t right. How do we fix it?” This is just one example of the tremendous expansion in the gig market.


Fueling the growth for this workforce are a number of on-demand job fulfillment organizations that connect businesses with gig workers, assist with placement, contracting and even handling the unique pay requirements in this space. Some of the obvious gig players such as Uber, Lyft, and Rover, are being joined by the new players like Fiverr, Jobble, UpWork, Freelance.com and GigNow.


Understanding this workforce

Gig workers’ top claim > they love the flexibility or independence of gig work. Some also site the financial advantages of gig work. Businesses utilizing gig workers focus on the flexibility of hiring in this space, hiring for a specific time-sensitive project, hiring for a specific need that is not full-time. It is also interesting to note that many of these businesses are finding that attracting, retaining and bringing back these workers is key to their success. One other interesting note is a large percentage of this workforce are “boomerang” individuals – they have retired and are returning as contractors.

65 percent of gig workers want access to non-medical benefits, and are willing to pay for them

First, they miss corporate benefits, like health care, as well as ancillary benefits or voluntary benefit programs available from traditional employers. Additionally, a hidden and often forgotten issue for these workers is the legal protections they would have as actual employees (professional liability for errors etc.).


Finally, these workers need access to compensation data to understand what they are paid, mobility data to understand the impact of a potential move for a gig job and they experience the loss of the social environment of traditional work.


So what’s the catch?


The positives of independence in gig work far outweigh the negatives, but these workers do miss certain aspects of traditional employment. Where and how can a business create these lost traditional benefits? Where can a gig worker access these benefits, social network and compensation data? Enter Mercer Indigo.



In future blogs, we will discuss workers’ needs in specific fields and how Mercer Indigo fulfills those needs for gig workers, contractors, freelancers – as well as the business, associations and on-demand platforms that utilize them.



Paige Clay

Eric Bassett

Senior Partner, Association and Affinity Leader, Mercer

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