Daniel Tomlinson: How can employers support wellbeing in the gig economy?


Working in the gig economy can be a liberating experience. Freed from the rigidities of the nine-to-five life, individuals find that they are able to enjoy work at a pace that suits them. For many, gig work and its associated flexibility is a wellbeing boost in and of itself.

But for other gig economy workers, flexibility is just a positive spin put on last-resort precarious work. Many giggers are not actually employees, but are paid as self-employed. This means no permanent contract, few benefits (from sick pay to parental leave) and no guarantee of pay levels, let alone the minimum wage.

For many gig workers this uncertainty harms their wellbeing, as the September 2016 report into courier work, Wild west workplace: self-employment in Britain’s ‘gig economy’, published by Frank Field MP has shown. So what can businesses do to support the wellbeing of their staff in the gig economy?

First, they could review whether or not they need to hire work on a self-employed basis. Trade unions in the UK are taking four London courier firms to an employment tribunal this year arguing that existing employment relationships are misclassified as self-employed.

Even if the tribunal rules that there is no misclassification, employers that want to boost wellbeing could offer employment contracts to those that want them. Juno, a new entrant into the New York taxi market, is doing just that.

Second, if full-employment status is too far, gig economy employers that want to boost the wellbeing of their staff should investigate ways in which they could reduce the risks associated with gig work. For example, as US instant-delivery firm Favor is already doing, firms could offer minimum hourly rates of pay. This would ensure a safety net is in place for when giggers turn on their apps and find that there is insufficient work available.

Daniel Tomlinson is a researcher at the Resolution Foundation