This is an essay I wrote and submitted to Bustle but since I got no reply from them I’m publishing it here.
To Gig or Not to Gig
Over the last year, I have lived on what is called the gig economy. A ‘gig’ job refers to a job that classifies its’ workers as independent contractors and not actual employees. An independent contractor is paid directly but does not have taxes taken out nor any other benefits such as health insurance or paid time-off. As I’ve worked both gig and non-gig jobs I can tell you that like anything else, there are pros and cons when it comes to taking on this kind of work.
One of the pros of gig-work for me is no set schedule. Previously, I worked mostly in call-centers and in my personal opinion those are toxic work environments. The toxicity comes from the fact that in a call-center you’re essentially chained to a desk for eight to ten hours a day with two fifteen-minute breaks and a thirty-minute lunch. And you’re not really encouraged to get up from your desk even to stand up and stretch. So for me not having to go eight-straight as I refer to it is a huge plus when it comes to a gig job. On a gig job, I can stand up, stretch, and take a break pretty much whenever I want to.
The con to this is that if you’re a person who needs constant direction gig-work might not be for you. Also, if you’re someone who can be lazy and unproductive this lack of structure could be a problem for you, too. Because with a gig-job you’ve got to keep working in order to earn, and you can’t afford to be lazy or not self-motivated.
For me, another pro to a gig-job is a lack of supervision. With the gig jobs I do (delivery and ride-share), I don’t have a direct supervisor standing over me watching and listening to everything I do. If I need assistance I go through an app or figure it out for myself. And in my gig jobs, those problem situations have been few and far between as I’m very good at thinking on my feet and solving my own problems.
Another big plus for me with a lack of direct supervision is that I don’t have someone critiquing every bit of my job performance. That micro-managing nit-picking was very pervasive in call-center world and it’s something I don’t miss. With a gig job I like feeling that I’m being treated as if I have a brain and can use it. Also, I don’t get mad or frustrated when a problem comes up. I can de-escalate a situation if I have to, or just be polite and courteous while working to find a solution. So I don’t need to be told that I have be on my best behavior customer service-wise every five minutes like I was in my former call-center world jobs.
Now granted I’m pretty much comparing my gig jobs to my previous jobs in call-center world but that world isn’t all that different from other office-type jobs. Because in call-center world you still have office politics out the kazoo with micro-managing and desk-chaining so to me, it’s the same stink any way you put it. But with gig work, I feel like there is less than can go wrong, and that what can wrong can be dealt with fairly quickly. I like being independent and problem-solving on my own so I think that’s why gig-work has fit me as well as it has.
The cons to gig work are primarily the wages and lack of benefits. There is money to be made in the gig economy and I’ve had some good numbers though I average about what I made in my non-gig jobs. The lack of taxes being taken out means a hefty tax bill and you have to track your expenses for deductions to try and offset that big tax bite. But there are apps for tracking expenses that are easy to use, and if you learn how to manage your money you can manage the tax issue. In addition to the lack of taxes being taken out, there’s no pension or 401(k) plan with these gigs. But you can always set up your own retirement savings accounts and stuff so a little independence goes a long away here.
With gig-jobs, the lack of health insurance and paid time-off hasn’t been that big of an issue for me. Because even when I had health insurance through my employer I still had a deductible to meet, and taking time-off was as complicated as getting a bill through Congress. So for me, employer-sponsored health insurance wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and paid time-off was nice to have but I hated having to try and schedule it in advance. And since I didn’t have sick leave with any non-gig job, if I got sick I had to use my paid-time off to cover myself money-wise. Now with the gig jobs I’ve had I haven’t had any paid time-off, but if I take time off at least no one is giving me flack for doing that. And because of the Affordable Care Act I am able to purchase health insurance with a sky-high deductible but with a premium I can handle.
So my advice then to anyone thinking about switching to a gig job is this:
– Know what you’re getting into, don’t believe any hype, and know that you’ll have to hustle to make any real money. It’s not easy money that will fall into your pockets just because you show up. You’ve still got to do the job and if you slack off enough you will be replaced.
– Be able to work without supervision and solve problems on your own without freaking out and getting mad at people. This is where you have to be a grown-up adult and take care of things without losing your mind. People remember bad behavior as much, if not more, than good behavior. Make a good impression and form good relationships, and people will help you out when you need it. Treat people wrong or burn bridges, and when the crap comes down you could be up a creek without a paddle. As my father always used to say, it doesn’t cost anything to be nice to someone.
– Keep your act together when the money may not be coming in like you want it to. Gig work is up-and-down at times and you need to be able to roll with it and change it up frequently. Don’t be afraid to change things up and know that if you do no one is going to come down on you for it.
For me, I honestly don’t want to go back to my former life in call-center world. Yeah, it would be nice to have a set wage and all that but I was not paid near enough to put up with the kind of crap that went along with those set wages. Besides, I like not being stressed-out because I’m worried about being managed out the door if management decides they don’t like me anymore (which happens more often than anyone realizes). And not that I’m anti-social, but sometimes people really bother me and not having to work with brown-noser’s who would sell me out is something I don’t ever want to deal with again.
Finally, I don’t ever want to go back working for inefficient at best, toxic at worst, management. Being a nit-picking lord or lady of the manor and making people feel like they’re never good enough is piss-poor management in my opinion. For every good manager I had who wasn’t like that, I had at least three that I wouldn’t give you a wheel barrel full of horse manure for. When it comes to bosses, I like myself the best.
For years, I was told I would never get out of call-center world. I love the fact that I’ve proven those people wrong. Has it been easy? No, but then nothing ever has been for me so any problems I encounter are ones I just deal with without any drama or second-guessing.
So I would say if you’re independent and don’t need to be told what to do every five minutes, and if you don’t want to be chained to a desk in a dumb office drama, then you should be able to do gig work and survive. If you do decide to pursue gig work, then gig like a rock star facing a crowd of screaming fans.