Culture + The Gig Economy: Why Culture Matters in the Contingent Workforce Too!


It isn’t often that an economic hiring shift is so sudden, obvious or recognizable as the uprising of the gig economy. Uber, Lyft, Upwork, Postmates, Fiverr are a few of the many organizations hiring today’s workforce in which contract and freelance workers design when and how they work. The gig economy is not a trend that we can ignore, it’s a fundamental shift in the way employees think about jobs, skills and the work being done. It is causing companies to rethink what they know about their workforces' as well. 

Whether or not companies are embracing a contingent workforce yet, they may not have a choice in the future. A recent survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 16 million U.S. workers are part of the contingent workforce, meaning that companies would be wise to start fostering an environment where all types of workers feel welcome, not just those clocking in at eight and out at five. This creates a significant challenge for companies as they accept this new workforce and learn to extend the same hospitality to them that they do their full-time employees. No matter how or when people work, engagement, retention, and company culture always matter. 

The anatomy of the contingent workforce 

To understand the specific challenges that the new gig economy presents, we first must understand the individuals. McKinsey Global Institute’s study, Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy, reports that the independent workforce is diverse in terms of age, income levels, educational attainment, and gender. These workers are made up of full-time freelancers, those who use it to supplement their full-time income, and those who perform this work not out of a financial need but because of the opportunities it provides them. Their diverse backgrounds, demographics, and lifestyles increase the need for companies to be both accepting and proactively addressing their needs.

The majority of contingent workers actively choose their working style and report high levels of satisfaction with it, according to the report. This can be an advantage as contingent workers tend to be happier than most full-time workforces because they have control over their working lives. It could be tempting, but risky to try to exert control over this workforce. Doing so often leads to dissatisfaction and workers moving on to the next opportunity. This group of nearly 162 million workers across the U.S. and EU-15 has options, and they are often selective about who they choose to work with. In fact, research by ICM for LinkedIn revealed that nearly half of U.S. professionals would entirely rule out taking a job with a company that had an unhealthy culture no matter what pay they were offered. This is true of permanent and temporary workers. 

The company culture of the future

To be an employer of choice among this ever-expanding contingent workforce, companies must expand their mindsets beyond the traditional, permanent employee model. A temporary, freelance and contract workforce has different needs, desires, and expectations. By legal status, this group isn’t entitled to the same experience as full-time employees, but companies are well advised to create satisfying and exciting work experiences for them. 

Here are 8 ideas for building a culture that creates inclusion and belonging for the contingent or gig workforce. 

  1. Create an inspiring vision of what their work is doing for the organization and for them personally.

  2. Create structures to ensure that important company news and information are disseminated consistently to part-time employees, as well as to full-time employees, ensuring that every member of the workforce feels equally involved in day-to-day business.

  3. Include contractors in team events, celebrations and company teambuilding activities.

  4. Find champions to provide feedback and offer insight on the unique needs of the group.

  5. Remember to thank them for their contributions. Highlight their performance in company communication to make feel appreciated for their work with you.

  6. Think outside the box with benefits for independent contractors. Research from The Aspen Institute found that 54 percent of workers in the on-demand economy believe they should receive more benefits as part of their job, but two-thirds of employers don’t feel they should be responsible for providing them. There is a serious disconnect in expectations, and much of it stems from how we’ve historically seen contract workers.

  7. Create learning events just for them to meet each other and share best practices.

  8. Make them feel appreciated by inviting them back to share their stories and best practices.

It’s time to rethink what contract employees mean to our companies, and how our culture extends to them. When this group becomes a welcome and included part of the culture, you create an environment where you have an increased base of loyal advocates, customers, and workers. Building a culture where everyone belongs is a key priority for companies who want to thrive.

What is your company doing to build a culture that welcomes and creates a sense of belonging for gig or contingent workers?