Is the Gig Economy for You?

By Mel Sim

Read this before you decide to start gigging….

Everyone’s talking about the gig economy and it’s even been identified as a new source of economic growth for the nation. While the word “gig” used to mean musicians or artistes hired on a job basis to perform, today the word “gig” basically means contract, freelance or short-term basis kind of employment. Instead of working in your traditional 9-to-5, you work as an independent contractor, or if you already have a 9-to-5, you pick up work that’s not related to your current role on the side (like driving Grab over the weekend).

Yeah, it pretty much sounds like freelancing except that with new job roles, new platforms and new providers, the gig economy is more than just being a freelance designer or writer. Here are some examples of what can be considered as part of the gig economy: Driving for an e-hailing company like Grab, renting out rooms on Airbnb, selling stuff on Lazada and Shopee, and even being a dog walker or sitter! Basically everyone from Grab drivers to freelance professionals as long as you’re not hired permanently by a company.

Why the sudden explosion of gig economy? You have digital tools to thank for. Applications like Grab and Food Panda make it easy to connect service provider with customers and a lot of traditional HR has gone online to make it convenient for one to find a gig or connect with a potential client even without meeting at all. Plus, globalisation has also made it encouraging for the gig economy to grow; you can be in Malaysia eating nasi lemak while doing work for a company in England. Anybody can be part of the gig economy!

In Malaysia itself, according to the World Bank data, about 26% of the working population is self-employed, and that number is growing as more people are opting for the gig economy. A study this year by Zurich Insurance Group found that 38% of respondents in Malaysia who are currently employed on a full-time basis are keen on joining the gig economy in the next 12 months (though with COVID-19, these 38% might have some reservations now).

Why is the gig economy attractive to some individuals? Flexibility, independence from being bound to just one company, having control over your own schedule, workload, setting your own fee, being able to have some sort of balance between work and life. But that’s for professional giggers like coders, designers, copywriters, PR specialists…

Then there is another group of gig employees who don’t really have a choice but to gig. Maybe they need to earn extra from what they are already being paid from their full-time job (so gigging is like a second job). Or maybe times are bad and they can’t find work. Then maybe they don’t really have any skills to offer but their time and effort. For these giggers, the gig economy is really all that they know – and go by.

So is the gig economy the way to go? It all depends. If you want flexibility and have highly-sought after skills, sure – it can really give you the career you want. If you’re good at it and are often recommended by your clients, perfect – gig away! If you have some form of commitment that doesn’t allow you to work full time and you don’t mind that your income isn’t stable, ok then, maybe gig is the only way to go.

But it’s not all fun, perfect and easy. Due to the gig economy’s nature (it’s really unpredictable), a gig worker isn’t an employee and so does not get to enjoy benefits like insurance, sick days, leave days, bonuses to name a few. And the irregular income is actually the biggest thing you need to consider before you join the gig economy. There will be months where you’ll receive tons of work or gigs; then there will be months where you’re so free you don’t know what to do with yourself. And now with COVID-19 causing even more unpredictability, the first person to be struck off from payroll is the gig or contract worker as a cost-cutting method.

This makes it difficult to save or you gotta be extra diligent about it! A 2017 study by the Department of Statistics Malaysia and Khazanah Research Institute stated that 66% of freelancers did not have a retirement plan, 33% did not have a personal financial plan and 55% have less than three months of savings to live by. Don’t like these numbers? Then perhaps gigging is not for you…

Gigging because you need the extra money? Driving Grab may seem like a fun way to meet people and earn some cash but because of the nature of the job, it can be quite physically taxing, especially if you are doing this after-office hours and over the weekends. You’ll burn out really quick, which may impact your current job. Plus, who knows how many other Grab drivers you’re competing with for that one customer.

Or if you decide to do a side hustle, take note that your side hustle may require the same amount of focus and dedication as a full-time job.

So should you join the gig economy or not? The answer to that requires you to be honest with yourself? If you are 101% sure that your career’s future is much more suited towards the gig economy, then what do you have to lose? But if you don’t think you have very much to offer or if you can’t handle the unpredictable nature of the gig economy, hmmmm we say you better think twice.

Then there’s the whole COVID-19 pandemic and how it will influence your future, gig or not. Here’s [something]( 2 AMMF v4.pdf) worth reading that’s related to the gig worker.

Tell us if you think the gig economy is the way to the future by sending us a Tweet at @graduan or drop us an email at [email protected]

Photo by Vlad Busuioc and Afif Kusuma on Unsplash

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