The gig economy is setting a new workplace precedent — one in which employees have more flexible schedules and can pursue other interests. In 2015, approximately 54 million Americans partook in independent work, and a 2016 study estimated that within the next five years, about half of the U.S. population will shift into the gig economy as increasing numbers of talent move to independent work.
While many employees appreciate the idea of contracts and flexible schedules, this changing workforce is putting some strain on managers, especially those in small businesses. The traditional employee relationship has changed, and employers now must balance the desire to be flexible with staying legally compliant.
For small and medium-sized businesses to attract and retain new employees, they must offer entirely new trajectories, multiple career paths, and engaging experiences. Millennials require flexibility and growth in their chosen environments. Even if a business doesn’t want to move to a gig economy approach, management should consider mirroring the concept internally.
A recent Accenture Strategy Study put together tips to create an internal gig experience. These included creating an agile workforce with flexible roles and experiences, connecting employees’ work to the purpose of the organization, and providing a small-team feel.
Support Creativity With Rewards and Diversity
With the growth of the gig economy, it’s increasingly obvious that people want the ability and support to be creative. They’re abandoning traditional paths to promotion, opting instead to explore, offer suggestions, and grow. Business owners need to create environments that support this need.
One step is to motivate creativity with rewards, whether that comes in the form of money or companywide recognition. Incentivize employees to think outside the box, then work to implement the best suggestions. Once employees see their ideas at work, they are likely to offer even more creative concepts.
A diverse staff also inherently encourages creativity. Do your best to recruit and hire from different backgrounds and knowledge banks, then allow your employees to interact in informal settings to foster an exchange of ideas.
Create Loyalty Among Employees
Once a company hires employees, retention is a key goal. It’s crucial to keep talent loyal to the brand and initiative. Many businesses worry about investing too much because an employee might leave unexpectedly, but it’s important to do the opposite. Investing in someone gives that person a sense of pride and allegiance. Here are additional ways to keep your talent loyal:
1. Build a compelling employee value proposition.
Talented teammates won’t be interested in staying if they don’t see the value in being there. Ask yourself what sets you as an employer apart from others and why your employees would want to work for you. Once you’ve crafted your employee value proposition, deliver the message and intent of it across the entire employee experience — from recruitment to onboarding to career development.
2. Give regular feedback.
Gone are the days of biannual reviews and promotions. Employees today want feedback, and they want it now. This isn’t to say they want constant criticism, although critical analysis is welcome if given in a constructive manner. Positive feedback is important as well. Be specific and timely, and allow for a response from your employees. Their input is important, too.
3. Foster leadership skills.
Millennial employees especially value the opportunity to grow as leaders. Offer to let them lead meetings. Encourage a reverse mentorship that lets them teach someone within their capacity — perhaps about a new app or a way to reach other Millennials. Leadership skills help both the employees and the business at large.
4. Chart multiple promotion paths.
Help your employees grow by providing them various ways to advance. Avoid sticking to an immobile organizational chart. Instead, offer differing paths and training. Some employees may want to go the management route, while others will want to advance their technical skills. If someone is unsure, let her try different positions and see what fits best. Consider assigning her a mentor to allow for a new perspective and independent feedback.
5. Give the gift of choice.
It might seem counterintuitive to allow choice when you’re trying to inspire loyalty, but this really can work in your favor. By giving employees some freedom and control — letting them work from home occasionally or make consequential decisions on projects, for example — they will feel their input is trusted and will respond positively. The giving and receiving of trust inspires employees to go beyond their normal scope.
6. Promote work-life balance.
Today, technology allows people to be available at all hours, and it can be difficult to find time to focus on home and health as a result. For instance, one study found that employees often check their emails outside of the 9-to-5 workday. Seventy-one percent said they manage email between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., while another 70 percent said they do so after 6 p.m.
Organizations that allow flexibility and stress proper work-life balance are more likely to retain their employees. One way you can promote work-life balance is by managing your employees’ expectations. If you promote flexible hours at your company, for example, make sure employees know they aren’t expected to respond to emails after hours. If an employee feels she must stay “on” all the time, she’ll likely struggle to find the balance she needs within the flexibility she’s given.
Managers today face a tough task of hiring and retaining employees who are intent on pursuing a career based on a gig economy. But by identifying the needs of your employees, allowing for creativity, and working to keep your talent loyal to your company and brand, you’ll find it easier to keep existing talent and improve your business.