Is the gig economy a fleeting fad, or an enduring legacy?

The shape of the global workforce is changing dramatically. Just as rapid globalization in the late 20th century caused a dramatic shift in global supply chains, the rise of the gig economy is transforming work as we once knew it. For businesses, technology is creating new and more flexible ways to meet demand. Among workers, the gig economy is creating a new set of expectations and attitudes to work.

The “gig economy” has soared into mainstream business consciousness in recent years, but what does it mean? In many ways, it is the antithesis of “jobs for life,” which tended to define the 20th century. The gig economy is supported and accelerated by the rise of technology and customers who expect goods and services to arrive faster and more flexibly than ever before. In an effort to meet these demands, businesses and governments need access to highly skilled professionals for short-term projects to drive innovation and rapid change. At the same time, workers are looking for work opportunities that offer greater flexibility and variety. Technology is the key enabler to facilitate the nature of supply and demand where available talent meets organizational need.

EY recently conducted a Contingent Workforce Study, which surveyed both major employers and contingent workers in the US on the topic of the contingent workforce. Among large organizations (100,000 employees or more) surveyed, 49% said they increased their use of gig workers in the last five years. Looking ahead, 40% of organizations expect to increase their use of contingent workers in the next five years. One quarter expect 30% or more of their workforce to be contingent workers by 2020.

There are several reasons for this rapid increase in the use of contingent workers, not the least of which is the lasting effects of the 2008-9 global recession. This period created a sharp focus on cost control, which ultimately resulted in a contraction of full-time employment.

In the absence of full-time work, many workers opted for contingent work first as an interim and now a more permanent solution. Behavioral, regulatory and policy shifts, and changes in expectations meant that both workers and organizations adjusted to and embraced the flexibility that contingent work arrangements provided, while technology served to facilitate a more seamless interaction.

By polling both short-term contingent workers and major global employers, EY identified talent strategies and preferences that serve both sides effectively.

Employer perspective

Evidence from EY’s survey of employers shows that organizations are using contingent workers to flex and bolster their capabilities. Contingent workers help employers control labor costs, and respond to the peaks and troughs in demand that come with seasonal trends.

There is also a more strategic and change management element to drawing on contingent workers: organizations are using contingent workers to overcome resistance to change within legacy workforces. A contingent workforce can help drive and accelerate change. It can also support rapid scale-ups in business models where dramatic growth can occur overnight. Given the extraordinary pace of technology change, contingent workers provide a critical bridge to integrating new products, services, technology and more into operations, without having to expand full-time equivalent headcount.

Worker Perspective

More than half of the giggers see contingent working as how they want to progress their career. In fact, a clear majority of contingent workers would not prefer full-time employment.

According to the EY survey, two in three contingent workers believe the benefits of contingent working outweigh the downside always or most of the time. Contingent workers see flexibility and control as the top benefits of doing gig work. They also like the flexibility for holidays, taking time off and the ability to work from home.

There is clearly a shift in mindset that spans generations: contingent workers crave flexibility, more control and a greater variety of work.

In a gig economy that’s here to stay, organizations and workers need to adapt

As the gig economy grows, new challenges emerge for organizations. Are contingent workers as motivated as permanent employees? Are they as well-managed? How well are contingent workers performing?

Organizations need to consider the contingent worker perspective as well. Are they treated as part of the team? Are their incentives as well-aligned with their contracting employer as a permanent employee’s would be?

The rise of the contingent workforce holds a wealth of opportunities for organizations and workers alike. Organizations want to cut costs and improve their agility to meet constantly changing consumer demands. Contingent workers crave flexibility and control. By working together and collaborating on ways to overcome the potential risks, organizations and giggers alike can ride a rising tide that will lift all boats to economic prosperity and performance.

EY Legal Services Contact:


Roselyn Sands – EY Global Labor and Employment Law Leader


EY People Advisory Services Contact:



Tony Steadman – Principal, People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young LLP