The “Gig Economy” is changing the face of employment

How the “Gig Economy” is threatening peer relationships in organizations and how these workers communicate. Here’s what to watch out for.

The Internet and mobile devices have created a generational communications barrier between Millennials and older employees (and employers) who still hold on to traditional jobs.

Catchy name, and apropos for the times we live in. The “Gig Economy” is what a growing number of people are calling the result of the huge swing from traditional employment to freelance and contract work. It’s gaining momentum, too.

The number of freelancers and contract workers – most of them younger – has risen by 60% between 1997 and 2014. The way this group works, and the way they create relationships, has changed a growing number of this workforce’s expectations, the way they communicate, and their actual community to communicate.

Perspective and preference shaped by age

If you are part of Gen X or a Boomer, it’s likely when you were just starting out, it was relatively easy to land a middle-class job with no experience – and even no college degree. The Great Recession and technology advances put an end to that ease of entry, making it a true struggle for Millennials.

But, they’ve found a coping mechanism in the Gig Economy. The consulting firm Deloitte conducted a recent survey and found that a third of Millennials have a preference for freelance or contract work. They’re not interested in a traditional full-time job. More of the Millennials who do have a full-time job and who were surveyed said they plan to leave their current job in the next two years than those who said they plan to stay put.

A product of the Internet

The Gig Economy – and the jobs it’s created for Millennials – bloomed as the Internet began creating new ways to make money. One route was an expansion of freelance job opportunities. Daily commutes could be replaced by laptops and an Internet connection. It didn’t matter where you physically resided, as long as you had connectivity.

Smartphones created a massive tidal wave of new job opportunities. Whole industries were disrupted and reinvented in ways that dispensed with traditional employees. These newly minted companies also did away with traditional modes of communication.

140-character driven work relationships

Mobile devices have changed the way we interact. It’s created a generational communications barrier between Millennials and older employees (and employers) who still hold on to traditional jobs. It’s also making Millennials even less desirable to companies looking for full-time employees. After all, how can you develop deep working relationships with your peers if you prefer texting to talking on the phone or even face-to-face meetings?

Millennials are capable of having both phone conversations and face-to-face chats, but these important communication skills seldom get much exercise if they have a Gig Economy freelance or contract job. As a result, they don’t develop the ability to build and maintain effective peer relationships – which are still absolutely crucial in the corporate world.

Recruiting for the real working world

Recruiters are finding it a challenge to place even qualified Millennials in corporate environments unless these candidates sharpen their interpersonal skills. Stereotypical or not, a disengaged attitude is a red flag to employers. It indicates someone who may not be capable of developing peer relationships.

Empathy and deep listening skills, along with the ability to share ideas and accept diverse perspectives, are qualities needed to be a successful member on a corporate team. Additionally, you’ve got to be able to handle conflicts and know how to deal with challenging personalities. Can you handle criticism? How about team conflict?

Whether it’s a result of the isolated Gig Economy lifestyle, or the generational attitudes – or a combination of both – the Gig Economy is creating both opportunities and obstacles. It’s a good thing for those who don’t see value in traditional corporate careers that are driven by the ability to demonstrate good interpersonal skills. It’s a problem for recruiters – and candidates – who are trying to satisfy the ongoing demand the majority open positions.