If you’ve joined the freelance economy recently, you may have had this harrowing experience. When answering the dreaded “What do you do for a living?” you wince at having to call yourself a “freelancer.”
The phrase tends to conjure up images of a starving artist banging out slam poetry on their laptop while sitting in a Starbucks nursing a latte all day. Hey, life isn’t so bad that way sometimes.
However, veteran freelancers are thinking that the time has come to stop greeting the word with such trepidation.
In times past, what was once referred to as “gig work” or “the gig economy” is going through a change. In fact, there appears to be a push to end the use of “gig economy” altogether in favor of the better, more high-brow sounding “freelance economy.” It’s gaining steam
What’s In a Name?
It’s easy to see why “gig” has such a negative connotation in the normal course of business. For some, it conjures a similar scene to when old Ben Kenobi hired a smuggler in a seedy bar for a single “easy” job. For others it calls to mind images of traveling musicians working from gig to gig.
Defeating the empire OR playing jazz for a living are both worthy endeavors, mind you.
Back in the real world however, attitudes are changing. The freelance economy is growing by leaps and bounds. Just how much growth? According to a joint independent study by Upwork, a leading freelance site, and the official Freelancers Union, over 53.7 million people in the United States work as a freelancer in some capacity or another.
For comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a little over 150.5 million traditional jobs in 2014. This means that the freelance economy accounts for roughly 1/3 of the entire United States workforce.
So What’s The Problem?
Calling it “gig work” isn’t a new term. In fact, “gig work” has roots in the jazz movement of the 1920s and the term stuck until it became the official term for freelance work back in 2009. So why are some pushing to push to change it now?
In short, it’s an image problem and the industry is starting to agree. Only about 10% of the freelance workforce prefers the term “gig economy.” Nearly half prefer to call the industry “the freelance economy” while 25% are content with the lesser-known “on-demand economy”.
To be seen as a professional appears to be the driving concern. While this may be an egocentric issue, it’s a valid point. Any worker can tell you at times, more often than not, working freelance can feel like standing outside of a hardware store begging for work for the day.
In short, freelancers trade the security of a “regular job” for the freedom of freelance work. As a result, it can be a grind. There are no shortage of companies and individuals willing to take advantage of such workers by offering less than competitive rates, poor working conditions, and sometimes illegal contract terms.
Of course, it is also up to the freelance industry as a whole to ostracize these ne’er do wells from the industry, as well as provide support and education for would-be freelancers that may fall victim to their wicked ways. It’s not a pity party, mind you. However, these circumstances do exist and need to be addressed.
Building a Stronger Voice
Now that The Freelancers Union is gaining membership, it may be time to re-brand gigwork as “the freelance economy” and thankfully, workers are carrying that banner into their workplace battle. It’s a small, but important step towards legitimizing one of the largest workforce’s in the country, perhaps the world.