(Editor’s note: Thanks to Steve King for allowing us to share with our users this analysis that first appeared on his blog, SmallBizLabs.com. Steve is a partner with the research and consulting firm Emergent Research and is an insightful and thought-provoking expert on the future of work, the rise of the independent workforce and the impact of big data on small businesses. The opinions expressed are his.)
Over the past month or so, there’s been a crescendo of negative press on the on-demand economy (or, sharing economy), with on-demand economy jobs being the primary target. The negative press tends to focus on Uber, which has established itself as the company everyone— except Uber users—hates due to, according to the company’s detractors, their rough and tumble business practices.
“The accurate view is this: Independent work is good for most and bad for many, a view that rarely shows up in the media.”
Examples of recent negative press coverage of the sharing economy
- Former labor secretary Robert Reich’s The Share-the-Scraps Economy nicely summarizes the view that sharing economy jobs are not good.
- Fast Company’s The Gig Economy Won’t Last Because It’s Being Sued to Death covers the many active employee misclassification sharing economy lawsuits currently be adjudicated.
- SF Gate’s Growing Voices Say Gig Workers Need Protections, Benefits claims the gig economy exploits workers.
- Forbes’ article Google Cabs and Uber Bots Will Challenge Jobs Below the API basically states that all sharing economy jobs will eventually be bad.
- The author of This Uber Driver Makes $252k, But Are We Headed Back To the 19th Century used to be a fan of sharing economy jobs, but no more.
The two opposing views of sharing economy jobs
- Supporters say the sharing economy not only provides good jobs that pay well, but also provides flexible work schedules and the ability for providers to become entrepreneurs and own their businesses.
- Critics say the sharing economy is creating a new class of serfs—poorly paid workers with few rights, benefits or legal protections.
So who’s right?
Both or neither, depending on how you look at it. In Emergent Research interviews, surveys and focus groups, independent workers almost always describe what we call the yin and yang —or two sides—of independent work (freelancing, self-employment, etc.).
Independent workers tell [Emergent Research] they love the autonomy, control and flexibility working independently provides. At the same time, they tell us they are challenged by the stress, uncertainty and insecurity associated with independent work.
For most independent workers, the good outweighs the bad and the majority report they prefer being independent. In other words, they like their work, think of themselves as having a “good job” and prefer being independent over having a traditional job.
But our research also shows a sizable minority of independent workers don’t like being independent. These people don’t like their work, think they have a “bad job” and would prefer traditional employment.
Bottomline: Good for most, not for all
The key factor indicating whether or not someone prefers independent work is how much work autonomy, control and flexibility they believe they have. Independents reporting happiness with their levels of work autonomy, control and flexibility generally report being highly satisfied with being an independent worker.
Those reporting being unhappy generally report not being satisfied.
This makes sense. These folks have the worst of both types of employment. They don’t have the autonomy, control or flexibility that makes independent work attractive—nor do they have the job security, benefits or legal protections associated with a traditional job. So in terms of the overall independent worker segment, both points of view—good and bad—are valid. But both of these points of view are incomplete.
The more nuanced and accurate view is this: independent work is good for most and bad for many. This view rarely shows up in the media.
In our research, we’ve started diving deeper on sharing economy jobs and so far we’re seeing the same pattern: Most of the providers we interviewed or surveyed like their sharing economy jobs, but a large minority don’t. And consistent with the broader independent worker segment, the key attribute is the amount of autonomy, control and flexibility providers have.
For those interested in more details on the yin and yang of independent work, the Job Makers Versus Task Takers section of the 2013 MBO State of Independence report covers this in more depth.