Louise Ward: How can employers support wellbeing in the gig economy?


A growing number of employers in Britain support their staff with a variety of wellbeing initiatives. However, only permanent staff tend to benefit from the increasingly popular direct wellness programmes, such as subsidised gym membership, healthcare, lifestyle advice, and subsidised healthy meal options, as well as from professional and personal development opportunities.

The rise of the gig economy, where the workforce is ‘jobbing’ with different employers, is changing the traditional employment relationship. The gig economy workforce, like most self-employed people, have to take more responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, especially in relation to their work.

Organisations providing short-term and contract work for ‘footloose staff’ are not responsible for their wellbeing to the same extent as they are in relation to their permanent staff. However, they still have a moral responsibility to provide information about health and wellbeing choices that would help their temporary staff make healthy decisions. In this new environment, the role of the employer is shifting from that of the provider of health and wellbeing support to that of an advisor.

In the gig economy, the flexible nature of the employment relationship gives the employee much greater control over how, when, and where they work, helping them to achieve a better work-life balance. However, at the same time, many people have reduced employment security, which can adversely affect their health and wellbeing. For example, a freelance journalist may take on far too much work in a given week, which will leave them working late into the night to meet deadlines, if they fear that they will not have any work the following week. This insecurity may lead people to take bad decisions in relation to their health and wellbeing.

Carol Black, a keynote speaker at the British Safety Council’s annual conference: Health and work in a changing world, gave a fresh perspective on wellbeing in the workplace: “People can be physically healthy and have no sense of wellbeing, and can be physically unhealthy, suffer from, for example, rheumatoid arthritis, and still have a sense of wellbeing. For me, wellbeing is a sense of contentment that is often associated with good health, but not always.”

Louise Ward is policy and standards director at the British Safety Council