Every month, Mercer brings together in-house experts, employee advocates and external thought leaders for an online discussion of the most pressing issues. The program is called #MercerChats and takes place entirely on Twitter, where individuals across the US engage with Mercer’s intellectual capital and other leading thought leadership to share insights and discuss the best solutions to help organizations thrive. Below is a summary of our September 2021 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and insights shared.

One thing that most HR and business leaders can agree upon is that talent is a major challenge in the future of work. In the shuffle to reshape their organizations for the post-pandemic era, businesses find themselves needing new and emerging skills, all against a backdrop of an increasingly competitive skills landscape where top talent has more choice than ever on where to work.

 

In this environment, organizations will need to be more creative than ever in how they source and recruit talent, and many are already on this journey. 39% of leaders are using more variable talent pools than they were before the pandemic, and 44% see the gig economy as a major factor in their talent strategy. If one thing is clear, it’s that tradition talent ecosystem is a thing of the past.

 

But is this shift to the gig economy as revolutionary as it seems? In some respects, “gig work” is just the consulting model applied to the talent pool. Rather than toil over tasks or issues that may be secondary or tertiary to their core business concerns, employers are outsourcing a solution so they can focus on what really matters. Just as a logistics company may once have brought in an accounting firm to efficiently run their books, that same company may now bring in a coder to help them integrate a new CRM platform.

 

With so many employers dipping their toes into the gig economy talent pool, we wanted to get a sense of why and how organizations are using gig workers. To do so, we asked some of the world’s leading minds on human resources, talent management and organizational transformation to join us in a discussion of on the future of the gig economy. The below are highlights and key takeaways from that conversation.

 

Benefits of Gig

Employers looking for the benefits of the gig economy don’t need to look too hard. The ability to bring in highly sought-after talent for discrete jobs or upscale quickly based on organizational demand solves a lot of HR and business leaders’ biggest problems in the future of work. As Brian Moran touched on, the gig economy may be most impactful for mid- and small-sized firms that are able to bring in top talent in a cost efficient manner, all while freeing up the rest of their workforce to focus on whatever they do best.

 

But the real reason for the boom of the gig economy is that the value runs two-ways. While employers are able to source talent more easily than the traditional recruitment and onboarding cycle, workers benefit from the freedom to choose how, where and for whom they work. As Janet Fouts shared, workers are looking for flexibility in their lives, and this is only likely to increase after 20+ months of global pandemic has shown how resilient and self-capable many workers are. After demonstrating to themselves that they can work and thrive in a decentralized, disconnected workspace, we may see more employees stepping out on their own in search of what Donna Lenki described as “W2 benefits with a 1099 lifestyle.”

“For small and midsize companies, gig workers can provide professional services in a cost-efficient manner. They can also let internal employees focus on other projects or other aspects of the same project.”

Brian Moran

“Those non-traditional roles are exploding and for good reason. Workers want flexibility in their lives and that comes from flexible working policies. Remote work is gaining respect bcuz of the gig economy.”

Janet Fouts

“Gig workers like the flexibility of the contract work environment, offering benefits or other perks that help them achieve 'W2 benefits with a 1099 lifestyle' can appeal to the thriving workforce.”

Donna K Lenki

Gig growing pains

For all the benefits of embracing the gig economy, there are credible reasons why employers still build and retain their own workforce. The first – and probably most important – is that this just is not how business has traditionally been done. Organizations are not set up to be open turnstiles where talent can come and go as it pleases, and a shift to the gig economy requires a herculean lift on behalf of HR. Ravin Jesuthasan shared as much during our chat, pointing out that this means deconstructing jobs to their component tasks and reconfiguring hierarchal teams to engage and reward talent in an entirely new way. For many businesses, adjusting to the gig economy means rebuilding the plane in midair, all while ensuring the end result remains attractive to talent.

 

This last part is among the more overlooked aspects of adapting the gig economy, but it was well covered in our conversation. When you strip away all the trappings and binds that come with traditional employment, what’s left to attract and retain talent? How can companies build and maintain trust with gig workers, as Darren Menabney put it, and how do you engage with talent that always has one foot out the door? If employers want to overcome these challenges, they may need to follow Dr Marcia F. Robinson’s advice and invest further in strategic recruiting, onboarding and inclusion tactics.

“Deconstructing jobs so we can identify the work most optimally deployed to a gig worker, building the organizational and manager capability to engage with gig workers consistently, crafting a specific value proposition for gig workers.”

Ravin Jesuthasan

“An under-appreciated challenge companies face is building & maintaining trust with gig workers. Some firms see no need to build trust and lack clarity in communication, payment, expectations. Building mutual trust means better outcomes for all in gig economy.”

Darren Menabney

“Challenges for companies hiring gig workers include:

  • Outsider orientation

  • Low Brand loyalty

  • Culture blind

  • Finding proven talent

All can be addressed with strategic recruiting, onboarding and inclusion tactics.”

Marcia F Robinson

Sustainable Gig

While “flexibility” may seem to be the name of the game, the ultimate success of your shift to the gig economy may be its sustainability. To what extent can your organization afford to rely on external talent before the core is gone entirely, and how much of your business-critical workforce can you outsource before it becomes an operational risk? These are the questions that both HR and business leaders are asking themselves as they ponder how deep into the gig labor pool they want to wade.

 

To start coming up with answers, employers should consider what they’re really offering gig workers that their competitors are not. Tamara McCleary shared this during our chat, pointing out that even if your talent is temporary, the culture and learning opportunities that you offer still make in difference if you’re looking to attract and retain the best.

 

In the end, many employees may be looking for security that the gig economy purports to forsake. Gig workers may not want to enter into a full-time, employer-employee relationship, but as Ian Gertler put it, they may be looking for a more “secure” distributed work. With this closer relationship may come the reintroduction of benefits, per Eric Bassett, which begs the question: where does the gig economy end and your traditional employment relationship begin?

“What are you offering the Gig Economy workforce your competitors are not? Are you easy to work for? Do you offer a great culture? Learning opportunities? What about offering health and retirement benefits?”

Tamara McCleary

“With benefits come challenges. The pandemic accelerated the focus for *secure* distributed work. This will include both Hybrid Work of full-timers and gig workers.”

Ian Gertler

"In a survey of 3k independent workers, they told Mercer they want benefits but don’t want to jeopardize their 1099 status. Contrary to old myths, it is possible to provide access at no risk."

Eric Bassett

Danielle Guzman
by Danielle Guzman

Global Head of Social Media