Why culture is so important in the age of the gig economy

The world of work is changing with more people opting to work in the so-called gig economy. That’s why it’s vital that employers double their efforts to create a good workplace culture, writes Dominic Holmes of Taylor Vinters 

Why culture is so important in the age of the gig economy

The traditional organisation is dead, according to Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, who headed the Taylor review of modern working practices. The concept of the regular nine-to-five job is becoming less common, as both businesses and individuals are increasingly opting to take alternative routes through the world of work.

The rise of the gig economy in recent years has given traditionally structured organisations something to think about. At the start of 2017 there were two million freelancers across the country, 88.5% of whom were freelance full-time rather than as a ‘side hustle’ or stopgap. This flexible and convenient mode of working has now apparently enticed as many as five million workers in the UK, according to figures from Zurich, the insurance company.

This number only looks set to grow, with experts predicting that 50% of the UK workforce will be self-employed by 2020, contributing more than £51bn to the UK economy.

Britain’s budding entrepreneurial spirit is also making waves. Just last year, almost 590,000 startups launched in the UK according to the Centre for Entrepreneurs. Clearly, traditional employment no longer appeals in the way it once did, with the same data revealing that 87% of the self-employed said they would never work for anyone else.

Meanwhile, those who choose to enter into traditional employment are demanding more from their employers. For many of the more recent entrants to the job market, purpose – whether personal enrichment that will set them up for the next stage of their career journey or the social good they can do in their job – is more important than level of pay.

Companies that want to stay ahead of the curve and recruit, retain and motivate young talent need to rethink how they operate. They need to place the values and motives of current and prospective employees closer to the heart of their strategy.

It all begins with a little introspection. Being aware of and shaping the workplace culture embedded within the core structure of the company is the first step towards setting it high above the rest of the workplace experience. And a strong culture is one that emanates from the people at the top.

Leaders must be able to speak to the deep human motivations driving today’s workforce – qualities such as a strong sense of purpose and community, and the opportunity for personal development. Once a company knows what it needs to do to create a good workplace culture, it can then focus on one of the more challenging aspects of retaining talent: maintaining an equally strong sense of authenticity.

When it comes to authenticity, communicating your company’s challenges and failings is just as important as championing the high points. It’s an aspect of the employee-employer relationship that a surprising number of organisations overlook and stumble over. The most entrepreneurial organisations will also give employees reasonable space to fail, seeing it as a necessary stepping stone to eventual success. They will say that it is okay not to get things right first time, as it shows the business is learning.

But amid these macro issues, it’s important not to lose sight of the individual at the heart of it all. In an age where the government estimates the impact of mental illness costs the UK economy more than £33m each year, it makes sense for companies to prioritise the health and wellbeing of their employees. Indeed, there is an expectation among younger generations in the workforce that wellbeing issues such as mental health will be addressed by their employer.

This is also one area where organisations that offer a fixed place of work can offer employees a level of care that is more challenging for newer business models, such as the gig economy, where the lack of an immediate and physical community can often leave workers feeling isolated.

While there are numerous other factors that can help employers stand out within our rapidly evolving world of work, companies that focus on an inclusive workplace culture and place high priority on employee engagement will often attract and retain the best talent.

Dominic Holmes
Dominic Holmes

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