How to Succeed in the Gig Economy

The “gig economy” is sweeping through the Canadian work force and making headlines.

More and more workers are ditching their nine-to-five jobs in favour of temporary, flexible roles. These on-demand workers – across all age groups – are embracing the gig economy in Canada and around the world.

To learn more about this changing work force, we surveyed approximately 1,000 self-employed Canadians to find out why they’re choosing this new trend in employment.

What’s the gig economy – and why is it growing?

The gig economy consists of short-term and freelance workers instead of typical permanent employees. Think shared-ride drivers, on-demand dog walkers, and your last Airbnb host. It’s a model that’s already been booming in Canada and showing no signs of slowing down,1 and now even highly skilled talent in fields such as IT, accounting, engineering and HR are adopting this means of employment.

The shift in work force was spurred by the global financial crisis in 2008, when unemployment levels were high. But even as things started to look up, short-term roles stayed popular because apps like Uber, TaskRabbit, and LinkedIn were able to quickly connect workers with new roles.

Another reason for the boom in gig seekers? They tend to enjoy higher job satisfaction, thanks to their newfound flexibility in where and when they work1. Plus, employers can quickly fill skill gaps by tapping into a steady stream of talented workers ready to hop on board at a moment’s notice.

Our survey found that desire, not necessity, is driving workers to go it alone. More than half of self-employed workers made the leap voluntarily, saying they did so to seek out new challenges or find purpose after a past business venture.

Here’s a look at the challenges and opportunities created by the gig economy, plus some helpful advice on managing your finances in an uncertain job market.

Who’s driving the gig economy?

The gig economy isn’t just for millennials. While it may conjure up images of twenty-something Uber drivers, the on-demand workforce is attracting Canadians of all ages and skillsets.

A range of generations perform gig work – from boomers seeking self-employment after a career of full-time work, to Generation-Xers pursuing independent work using their skills and knowledge, to millennials trying to establish a career while boosting their savings.

The December 2017 BMO Wealth Management survey helps to explain why workers of all age groups have embraced non-permanent positions. Their top reason across generations: the autonomy of being self-employed. But each generation had their own motivations for hopping into the gig economy.

Baby boomers

  • For boomers, the gig economy is a great opportunity to ease their way out of the workforce while supplementing their income.

Generation X

  • The Gen. Xers found it helped them balance career or family needs, maybe because they’re most likely raising a family, providing support to elders and growing their career.

Millennials

  • Compared to the older generations, millennials were more inclined to work in the gig economy to make extra money on the side and to use it for the short-term until they found a better job.

Overcoming obstacles in a gig economy

The gig economy is uncertain by nature, which brings a unique set of struggles. Across generations, workers say that the lack of benefits, not getting paid when sick, and not earning enough were the top challenges of working in the gig economy.

Boomers were more likely to be concerned about the lack of benefits, likely because the risk of disability or illness can increase with age. The millennials and generation Xers were more likely than boomers to be dealing with debt. This could be because younger generations are juggling multiple financial priorities, whereas boomers have had longer working careers and therefore more time to build wealth and pay down debts.

6 ways to thrive financially while working in the gig economy

For many, the perks of the gig economy outweigh the potential challenges. And no matter the generation, gig workers will need to do some legwork to keep their finances in check.

If you’re in the gig economy – or thinking of jumping in – here are some practical ways to help overcome financial challenges:

  1. Create a (flexible) budget. Building a spending plan can be difficult when your income fluctuates from month to month. Consider creating a few versions of your budget: a minimalist option for when you’re between roles, and variations that let you spend a little more when you have paycheques coming in.
  2. Take control of your taxes. As a self-employed worker, you’re responsible for reporting your income to the appropriate tax authorities, and making all Canada Pension Plan contributions. You’ll want to keep detailed records of all your income and expenses. It’s also a good idea to work with an accountant to keep track of your income tax situation and requirements.
  3. Build a safety net. A lack of stability means having an emergency fund is especially important for gig workers. Try to stash away enough money to cover three to six months of expenses, so you’ll be covered if you have an unexpected expense (like your car breaks down) or if you have trouble finding your next gig. Make sure to keep it somewhere you can easily access when needed.
  4. Invest in your health. It’s smart to cut back on expenses when you’re in a non-permanent role, but your health isn’t the place to skimp. Having your own private health and medical benefits coverage means you can get the treatment you need to take care of your health even when the budget is tight. If you’re part of a professional association, see if they offer discounted insurance plans for members.
  5. Save for the long term. As a non-permanent employee, your retirement savings are your responsibility. Saving in individual retirement accounts, like RRSPs and TFSAs, is a good strategy. Try setting up automatic payments that are transferred into your savings quarterly or semi-annually instead of monthly to account for your fluctuating income.
  6. Have a financial plan. A financial plan is the solid foundation that will help keep you steady in an unpredictable job market. Your plan has to be flexible and revisited regularly. If income is scarce one month, be prepared to suspend savings in the short term. If your gig income is good another month, then contribute more to retirement savings and emergency funds.

The bottom line

The gig economy is changing the way people work and attracting Canadians from all walks of life. While temporary roles offer plenty of perks (like flexibility, independence and work-life balance), they also comes with financial obstacles that you’ll need to overcome. Working with a BMO financial professional can help you create a personalized plan to find financial wellness while working on your terms.

For more details on the survey, view the full Wealth report.

 

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Footnotes
[1] The “Gig” Economy and Contingent Workforce in Canada. Lamb, D. Sterling Talent Solutions, August 21, 2017. https://www.sterlingtalentsolutions.ca/blog/2017/08/gig-economy-contingent-workforce-canada/
2 Respondents in the survey may have selected more than one response, so the percentages in the table do not total 100%.
3 BMO Wealth Management survey conducted by ValidateIt Technologies Inc. for the BMO Wealth Institute between November 29, 2017 and December 2, 2017 with an online sample size of 1,005 self-employed Canadians.  The overall probability results for a sample of this size would be accurate to within +/- 3.01% at the 95% confidence level.