Evolving Workplace Policy for the Gig Economy

September 15, 2023


The gig economy is growing three times faster than the total U.S. working population. If that growth keeps up, roughly half of the country’s workforce will be freelancing within the next decade.

If you’re like many employers, you may be wondering, “How can I compete with my employees’ side hustle?”

It’s a legitimate concern, given that four in 10 freelancers make as much as 40 percent of their income from their side jobs. In fact, many freelancers are individuals over 55, relying on the extra work to pad their retirement funds.

But, money isn’t the only thing driving these individuals. Some are entrepreneurs with a vision to transform their freelance operation into an enduring enterprise. Others are seeking respite from the mundane, pursuing passion projects that appeal to them.

The first step is to understand how deeply the gig economy is impacting your workforce. Only then can you begin to strategize how your business can evolve to address it head on. Talk with your HR team to get a handle on the likely number of employees using their free time to pursue income-producing activities outside of their career. Ask them how many freelancers your own company uses and why.

Then, arrange one-on-ones with some of these individuals to get a qualitative concept of what motivates them to hold down multiple jobs. You may be surprised to learn they are driven by something completely outside your control. You may also discover opportunities to support them in their endeavors. Perhaps they are working on an idea that got stuck somewhere on its way up the flagpole of your enterprise (like a super cool app for your end-users). Maybe they are creating something you need or want more of in your environment (like gluten-free baked goods). Or, they could just be exploring a talent or trait they aren’t able to exercise at work (like writing or motivating a team).

Getting to know these individuals may have additional benefits beyond exploring the gig economy impact on your business. Chances are good you’ll spot traits in them you’ll want to duplicate across the enterprise. It may look something like an athletic lean -- employees are on the balls of their feet, leaning into their work and ready to pounce at the next flash of opportunity.

After gathering this intel, check in on your workplace policy. What does it say about side jobs? Are they strictly prohibited, and if so, does that policy need some softening to help you attract members of the modern workforce? Are side jobs allowed with certain restrictions, and do those terms fit the expectations of today’s most sought-after leaders? Are side jobs not even addressed in your workplace policy? Above all, you want your policy to encourage employees to be open and honest.

Researchers recently found that gig economy participants feel happier and healthier than their full-time counterparts. When nurtured, that kind of energy can spill over into your environment, having all kinds of positive impact on morale, innovation, perhaps even productivity.