Overcome Stubborns

Employers, You Need Your Gig Workers. Here's How to Treat Them Better

Corporate America, the gig workers that keep your businesses operating have some feedback. As the popularity of independent work increases, so does business dependence on contractors, freelancers, and gig workers. In a McKinsey survey in 2022, 36% of employed respondents, equivalent to about 58 million workers, identified as independent workers, up from 27% just six years earlier. The recruiting platform MBO Partners estimates the number is closer to 45% as of last year. Independent workers are the people who deliver your lunch, drive you to the airport, build your houses, write your blog posts, design your websites, produce your podcasts, tutor your kids, and market your products to the public. Among the changes to our working lives brought about by the pandemic is the preference–and often the need–for non-standard work arrangements. In fields where employment is precarious, gig work can cover the gaps in a pinch or when the bottom falls out. The popularity of flexible, autonomous, asynchronous, and project-based work remains with us long after Covid has subsided.Many who work as contractors are attracted to the autonomy and flexibility this working style affords; and especially for family caretakers, who are disproportionately female, freelance and contract work allows them to earn an income while meeting caregiving obligations. Plenty are drawn to the work out of necessity, bringing in extra money to fill the gaps or to maintain an income when a full-time job can’t be found.Even so, gig work has been associated with higher rates of anxiety because of its unpredictability and instability, and because gig workers shoulder the burden of benefits typically provided by the employer, like health insurance and paid leave.C. Crockford is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and editor who has experienced both the promise and peril of gig work over the last decade. When editorial work doesn’t cover expenses, he uses apps like Amazon Flex, TaskRabbit, and Fiverr to pick up moving gigs, cleaning gigs, the odd retail shift, and courier work. It pays quickly, and he can squeeze it into his schedule where it fits. “The upsides of that are it is easy to find work if you’re just hustling, but it does depend on who’s posting and what’s available,” he told From Day One.Another point of stress: Gig workers seldom get employee-benefits support from the apps they use unless they meet a specific number of hours, thresholds that Crockford feels are unrealistic. “They offer benefits, but only if you work a certain amount of hours a month, and they know that you’re not going to make those hours,” he said. The relationship between worker and platform is often mercenary and transactional.Freelancers, contractors, and gig workers are left vulnerable. Not only are they susceptible to the whims of the business cycle, they’re not undergirded by the same rights full-time permanent employees enjoy. Some are paid sub-minimum wages and treated like permanent employees without the requisite benefits and support, a practice known as misclassification. Crockford pointed out that the benefit of quick payment is sometimes undercut by how low the compensation can be. He’s gone out for some jobs that pay just above the local minimum wage.Misclassification is one of the most common abuses: expecting full-time commitment from contingent workers without providing the protections and benefits required by law for full-time employees. It’s estimated that between 10% and 30% of U.S. workers are misclassified as contractors. Misclassification isn’t just ethically dubious, it has legal implications as well, depriving workers of labor rights and fair wages, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Misclassification of employees has invoked a number of lawsuits in recent months. In January, the Department of Labor issued stricter guidance over how workers must be classified, which prompted lawsuits from employers that want more freedom to categorize workers as they choose. In June, 15,000 delivery drivers sued Amazon for misclassifying them as contractors rather than full-time employees. The platform pays workers for three-hour blocks of time, regardless of whether their deliveries take longer. As a result, the suit alleges unpaid wages and overtime. “Companies either willfully or knowingly misclassify their workers as independent contractors to avoid having to pay employee taxes and benefits that can be costly for a company in the long run,” said Rafael Espinal, executive director at the nonprofit advocacy group Freelancers Union. “Companies hire freelancers on a long-term basis and put the same requirements on that freelancer that they put on their traditional employee. When in reality, the relationship between the company and the freelancer should strictly be a business relationship where the freelancer has full control and autonomy of how they’re using their time and how they’re producing the work.”The Effects of Misclassifying Contact WorkersFreelancers, gig workers, and contractors have largely been excluded by the benefits blitz of the last few years. Not only do they not qualify for basics like health insurance, 401(k)s, and paid leave, they also don’t get smaller perks–like transportation subsidies or career development training–nor are they included in many of the changes brought about by employers prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.Rachel Marcuse, chief operating officer and managing partner at DEI consulting firm ReadySet, believes that contractors and freelancers are the forgotten demographic. This set seldom has access to employee resource groups, learning and development opportunities, and company culture.“Not only are they left out of programming when it comes to DEIB work–being able to attend training and that sort of thing–but they’re also left out of having a voice around their experience,” she told From Day One.But, said Marcuse, the free agents working with your organization represent a wealth of knowledge about your company and how your employer value proposition compares to the competition. These workers are exposed to different workplaces, cultures, and organizational norms and policies.  “Contractors are frequently left out of engagement surveys that organizations do on an annual basis, which I think is a really big miss, not only because we want to make sure that all members of the team, regardless of their employment status, are having a good experience, but also because often these workers have particularly unique perspectives given their vantage point,” she said.The experience of working as a freelancer can be completely different than that of a full-time employee at the same company simply because they’re not factored into the employee experience. In 2021, workforce consultancy Mercer argued that employers should start providing contractor benefits. “Gig workers are here to stay, it’s time to give them benefits,” reads one Mercer blog headline. Some organizations are trying to close the gap. Independent workers can buy health, disability, and life insurance plans through Freelancers Union, and Mercer has even developed a platform for non-full-time worker benefits, called Mercer Indigo.How to Be Better to Your Contractors and FreelancersContract workers and their advocates want two things: Respect for their boundaries and on-time payment. Leslie Lejano, a Los Angeles–based freelance PR and communications consultant, asserts that a good client is one that treats her as a collaborator, not an order-taker. “They’re hiring me because they trust me. They value my services. They understand the value that I provide,” she told From Day One. “It’s very much like a partnership. I really value a client that gives me enough to work with, but also trusts that I have a vision.”And be aware of “scope creep,” which is when a client demands tasks outside of the agreed-to scope of work, often incrementally. It’s a violation of the contract, and it’s a harbinger of a relationship with poor boundaries, contractors say.  The most common problem that Freelancers Union hears from its members is late payment, or even non-payment. In fact, the union “polled freelancers and found that 76% every year go either unpaid or not paid on time by a client,” according to Espinal.There are bad actors who pay late or simply don’t pay, he said, but there are also well-meaning employers who don’t set themselves up to easily pay contract workers. Many HR payroll systems aren’t orchestrated to pay contractors, who aren’t integrated into full-time employee payroll systems. Therefore they aren’t paid at regular intervals, but in an ad hoc manner, often through a clunky system.What companies may not realize is that any given invoice can jeopardize a freelancer’s ability to pay their rent, eat dinner, or afford their basic living expenses. Though the arrangement with a contractor is typically a business-to-business relationship, “freelancers are not able to absorb tardy payments the way large companies are able to,” Espinal pointed out.Where companies that hire contractors on an ad-hoc basis often fail to pay out on time, Crockford has found that platforms designed specifically for gig work often succeed at super-fast payment. Some apps send fees within a few hours, and many are good at resolving payment hiccups quickly, he said.PR consultant Lejano wants employers to understand that her work, and the work of every other contractor, comprises much more than her clients ever see. “Freelancers juggle so many things beyond the actual work that they’re doing,” she said. “They’re also handling their accounting, their marketing, their client acquisition. There are all these other things that come with being self-employed.”Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the Economist, the BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.[Featured photo by South_agency/iStock by Getty Images)

BY Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | July 17, 2024


The From Day One Newsletter is a monthly roundup of articles, features, and editorials on innovative ways for companies to forge stronger relationships with their employees, customers, and communities.

Overcome Stubborns
By Lisa Jaffe | July 18, 2024

What a Five-Generation Workforce Means for You: The Myths and Realities

Nick, a senior manager in a global tech company based in Seattle, has worked with people of many different ages, both older and younger than him. His experience is increasingly typical in a workforce that spans five generations, a growing diversity of experience that provides the benefit of workers sharing wisdom across the ages, but also gives rise to problems like ageism–the bias against others based merely on their calendar age. Nick recently learned that one of his direct reports is notably older than Nick assumed. “At that moment, I realized that I had been thinking of him as less serious and more in need of guidance. I knew I had to examine my prejudices about age.”This is the first time in history that such a rich mixture of people from their teens to their 80s are at work. But the implications for business are still being sorted out. In 2020, a Deloitte white paper reported that 70% of executives surveyed believed a multigenerational workforce was important for their organizations, but only 10% felt ready to lead one and understood how it might affect operations.The widespread assumption has been that the generations are distinct enough in their affinities that they should be treated differently. In the Deloitte survey, more than half the respondents said they consider differences between the generations in designing operations and benefits But are these differences more perceived than real? Deloitte’s report cites the new concept of a “perennial” employee, or someone who transcends generational stereotypes.As the Deloitte survey explains: “Why is generation becoming less relevant as a way to understand the workforce? The starting point is that careers have become more dynamic and complex, loosening the historic correlation between age and career progression. Rapid technological and organizational change means that workers must now reinvent themselves multiple times throughout their working lives; at the same time, the broader business culture has shifted to make it acceptable, sometimes even desirable, to promote younger individuals into leadership positions. The upshot is that 65-year-old interns can today be found working side by side with 25-year-old managers, calling into question the assumption that age is a reasonable proxy for understanding people’s workplace challenges and needs.”A 2012 analysis of more than 20 studies supports this view, finding few generational differences in work-related variables like attitudes towards work or technology. Where they do exist, the differences can likely be attributed to variables other than age, like education level.Yet ageism persists. In this story, the first in a three-part series, we'll be looking at how employers can confront this challenge by adopting more age-inclusive practices. There’s good reason to do so, since lack of trust between generations can create unnecessary competition and resentment, to the detriment of working relationships. One experiment found that negative beliefs about older people and how they adapt to new technology led to poorer training of those people. Another survey found that hiring managers view younger workers as having more relevant education and experience and being a better cultural fit with organizations. On the other side is a view that goes as far back as Socrates: young people are flighty, have a poor work ethic, or require constant praise from above. Stephane P. Francioli, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Wharton School of Management, has made a study of “youngism” and found that when asked about age-related abuse or discrimination, younger workers report higher rates than bias related to sexual orientation, race, religion, or gender, he says. Could this be because they see the workplace as wholly unfair? No, he says. If that were true, younger workers would also complain about issues of racism, sexism, or anti-LGBTQIA+ actions at higher levels than other age groups. They don’t. Heather Tinsley-Fix is a Senior Advisor at AARP where she helps employers support a multigenerational workforce (company photo)Pigeon-holing different groups can impair how teams work together, says Heather Tinsley-Fix, a senior advisor at AARP, whether it’s saying that older people are not flexible with new tech or younger people have no loyalty. “If someone was young and not tech savvy, they wouldn’t mention it, but if they are older, it gets attributed to age,” she said. “It's often just a knee-jerk reaction.”Abuse and discrimination can take many forms. Younger workers may be asked to run personal errands outside of their job description, or handle on-call hours at night because they don’t have children to take care of. They may be denied flexible work arrangements that parents of young children are given because a manager doesn’t think young, childless employees will work as hard at home without supervision, says Francioli.The problems that affect younger workers are often not addressed because they are not recognized legally, at least at the federal level. In the U.S., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act covers age discrimination in workers over 40, but can disregard other workers. Employers need to be careful not to encourage and reemphasize generational differences by organizing training according to age groups, like courses on how to manage millennials, helping older workers navigate technology, or how your Gen Z staff is different. “There is no scientific basis for any of this, it creates an us vs. them atmosphere, and encourages an in-group/out-group mentality,” Francioli said.One other consideration is how people can project age-related perceptions onto others. An older worker, for example, may believe coworkers think he is slow to adapt to new work methodologies, when they may not feel that way at all. In fact, one study found that what people believed about other generations was usually positive. The outlier was what people thought of younger generations, though young people believed others’ perceptions of them were far more negative than the reality.While putting stereotypes aside, there are still some age-related realities that employers should take into account. For example, companies can consider ergonomic factors when it comes to older workers, as well as developing support programs for staff members going through menopause. But assuming attitudinal characteristics of specific age groups and training workers based on those assumptions is often counterproductive.At the same time, the world is changing fast, so generations are experiencing factors like media and economic conditions in different ways, which shouldn’t be overlooked, says Corey Seemiller, Ph.D., a professor at Ohio’s Wright State University, and author of several books about Gen Z. Understanding those differences can be key to engaging with team members and the future success of your organization. She points to Gen Z, the social media generation, and their comfort with video as a form of communication. “Do you offer the opportunity for them to provide a video resume? Not all of them will, but some might prefer it,” she said.Many in Gen Z are uninterested in public accolades for their work; some actively dislike it, Seemiller says. Similarly, those from Gen X, often called the Latch-Key Generation, experienced a lot of freedom during their childhood and are often averse to micromanagement.Knowing what might discourage different generations and meeting them where they are doesn’t make you ageist. But if, for example, you note that older people who worked in an analog culture for most of their careers are having trouble adapting to a new tech platform and subsequently require special training for all people over 50, Seemiller says, that is when it becomes discriminatory. The best way to support the different needs of employees is to talk to them and treat them as individuals, advises Seemiller. Employers should find out what they want, what they need, and where there is room for improvement. Regular surveys are a good way to do this.  All of this can be highly nuanced, but for employers, it will be worth the effort. We are experiencing a great age shift in the workforce. The UN estimates more than a third of the population will be over 65 by 2050. In the U.S., one-fifth of the population will be over 65 by 2030. Better health, and better healthcare, as well as economic circumstances, have led to people working longer. At the same time, the birth rate is declining.Is your organization prepared for fewer younger workers and more older workers? How can you create a culture where ageism and prejudice against anyone, young or old, doesn’t gain a foothold? How can you harness the power of a multigenerational workforce? In part two of this series, we’ll provide actionable ideas and examples of programs that have helped other organizations successfully navigate changing demographics.Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, AARP, for sponsoring this story, the first in a series on how employers can foster age inclusion in the workplace. Interested in assessing how you are doing with age inclusion–and learning more? Try AARP’s new tool, Age Inclusion 101. Just send an email to employerpledge@aarp.org, with the subject line betatest.Lisa Jaffe is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle with her son and a very needy rescue dog named Ellie Bee. She enjoys reading, long walks on the beach, and trying to get better at ceramics. 

Overcome Stubborns
By Abigail Abrams | July 17, 2024

In Women’s Health, a New Coalition Aims to Keep Up the Progress

Women’s health care, long neglected by medical researchers and tech innovators in the U.S., is starting to get its due. A new coalition of digital health companies aims to harness the energy around women’s health to boost the accessibility and affordability of their care by working with employers to improve corporate benefits and workplace support.The group, called the Women’s Health Coalition for Digital Solutions, combines the mental-health platform Talkspace and the family-health company Ovia Health with other startups aimed at everything from fertility to menopause to nutrition and fitness.In its first year, the collective is focused on awareness and de-stigmatization efforts as well as using its members’ influence to advocate for workplace health equity. In future years, the coalition’s founders say they would like to encourage more investment in women’s health technology and enhance the patient experience by exploring integration among their many services.The idea for the group came about when Talkspace, which has expanded its business-to-business offerings in the last few years, was looking for partners, and executives saw a growing customer need in the realm of women’s health.“Women are busy. We manage our homes, we manage our work life, we’re managing our own personal happiness,” said Natalie Cummins, chief business officer at Talkspace. “What we’re hearing from our customers is that three barriers that still exist are stigma, access, and affordability.” She and other coalition partners are quick to note stats that show while women live longer than men, they spend 25% more time in “poor health” and they pay $15 billion more per-year in out-of-pocket health care costs than employed men. So Talkspace sought out other virtual health providers who shared their goal of helping people access care remotely, and intentionally put together a group that serves each point in a woman’s life cycle. In addition to Talkspace and Ovia Health the founding members include Conceive, which offers fertility and pregnancy support; Evernow, which offers menopause care; Nurx, a telehealth company that prescribes birth control, acne treatment, and other medications; FitOn, a fitness app; and Nutrium, which provides nutrition counseling. The coalition is part of a growing trend of employers prioritizing fertility and other family-building benefits in the last few years. The percentage of U.S. organizations offering such benefits increased from 30% in 2020 to 40% in 2022, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans. The focus has expanded to include menopause, which has been poorly understood and little-discussed in the workplace. About 15% of companies surveyed by Mercer in 2023 provided menopause-specific benefits—up from just 4% in 2022. “We are seeing people respond to us in a way that is really taking menopause seriously as they should,” says Donna Klassen, a clinical social worker and co-founder of advocacy group Let’s Talk Menopause. She is particularly eager to see efforts aimed at changing the culture and policies around menopause in the workplace, as research has shown that menopause symptoms–and the stigma around them–can negatively impact both women and employers. Researchers at Mayo Clinic found that menopause symptoms cost the U.S. $1.8 billion in lost work time per year, for example. “When people have support at work, they are less likely to feel that they want to leave,” Klassen said. She emphasized the importance of trusted information as more women and their employers address menopause publicly. “People want their questions answered, and doctors don’t always have the time,” she said. “So let’s make sure you’re getting your information from credible sources.” Let’s Talk Menopause offers workshops and other educational programs to individuals and companies seeking to learn about menopause.That kind of education is key to the new coalition’s goals too. It’s “really an opportunity to drive some of the thought leadership with people who have been in this industry for a while and who are invested in improving the lives of women,” said Corrinne Hobbs, general manager and VP of enterprise and strategic partnerships at Ovia Health.Corrinne Hobbs, general manager and VP of enterprise and strategic partnerships at Ovia Health (Photo courtesy of Ovia Health)As the group develops, Hobbs says she sees the coalition companies being in a good position to provide services, advice, and research for companies that want to improve their benefits or policies in ways that support women’s health. Their effort comes as the U.S. continues to see the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the federal right to abortion, which has led to other restrictions on reproductive health around the country. Cummins, Hobbs, and other coalition partners say they are not wading into national politics, but are focused on enhancing access to women’s health care for as many people as possible. They were pleased to see President Joe Biden’s executive order expanding research on women’s health earlier this year, for example, and are hoping this is a sign of progress. “For many years, women were thought of as tiny men and weren’t really required to be in clinical research,” said Lauren Berson, CEO and founder of Conceive, the fertility-support app that’s one of the coalition’s founding members. As part of the effort from the federal government, the National Institutes of Health will focus new research on menopause and an array of other health issues that affect women, including Alzheimer’s and conditions like endometriosis and fibroids.Conceive is especially focused on equipping its users with the science and information they need to navigate the experience of getting pregnant. “There’s just so much more we can do together when we think about the lack of research and the lack of infrastructure,” Berson said.The members of the new coalition say they have already heard from companies who want to join the group, but they know there is still a long way to go. Some first steps for employers looking to support women’s health, they say, are to design benefits plans that reduce the out-of-pocket costs for women, remove barriers to seeking care, and ensure benefits cover the full spectrum of employees’ experiences. “Ensuring that your workplace supports women is crucial,” says Hobbs of Ovia Health. “So what does that look like? Improving the parental leave policy, flexible work initiatives, ERGs to really understand the needs of employees and then also minimizing the caregiver burden at home.” Abigail Abrams is a health writer and editor. Currently she is the senior manager of content operations for Atria. Previously, she was a staff writer on health and politics for TIME magazine. Her freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Guardian, and other publications.(Featured photo by SDI Productions/iStock by Getty Images)

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