Experts Agree, This is the Dark Side of the Gig Economy

A Few Reasons the Gig Economy Isn't That Great
by Lisa Crocco
Photos Stephanie Yang | February 27, 2017
Enough with all the articles about the flex schedules and freedom that freelancing brings. It’s time we start talking about the downsides, too.
If you’re a member of the gig economy, whether that means you’re a full-time freelancer or a part-time side hustler, you’ve probably experienced frustrations as well as triumphs (and if you’re a member who hasn’t, please tell me what your secret is—no, seriously, I need to know). Just like a “regular” full-time job, not every aspect is fantastic and you’re bound to run into complications.

But the thing is, when people think of the gig economy, they imagine this wonderful thing. We can travel as much as we want, work in our pajamas while ice cream drips off our chins, and then unicorns magically deliver hefty paychecks each month. Most of that is actually true—well, minus the unicorn part. We do have the freedom and flexibility to create the type of work that works best for us.

But chances are they’re imagining the glossier version of what freelancing and side hustles look like after reading the many overwhelmingly positive articles flooding the internet. As a freelance writer, I’m definitely a guilty party—I’ve written articles about all the sunshine and rainbows a freelance life has to offer. But I’ve dealt with my fair share of complications. Does that prove that a “dark side” of freelancing exists—or is it just a sign of the ebb and flow everyone experiences in their careers?

The Dark Side Is Real

I recently discovered The Dark Side of the Gig Economy study by Cision who partnered with The Rockefeller Foundation to dive into the disconnect between what the media portrays of the gig economy and how members of the gig economy actually feel.

Cision sought out to answer the following questions:

  • How are independent workers and their industries portrayed in the media?
  • What are the differences between the media’s perception of the gig economy and what the professionals thought and said about their own experiences?
They reviewed one year’s (July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016) worth of news and blog mentions—AKA more than 500,000 posts. They then combed 132,000 social media comments and posts about independent workers. And that’s where the surprise happened.

The data ultimately reflected a huge gap between the overwhelmingly positive articles published on independent workers and the actual negative sentiments of independent workers that they posted to social media.

"Oftentimes the upticks in coverage are driven by studies publishing survey results sharing the success of gig employees and noting the increase in the size of this population. However, there is another side of the story surfacing on social channels,” Senior Insight Analyst at Cision and the author of the report, Caitlin Jamali, said.

And Here’s Why We Don’t Talk About It

While media coverage portrays the gig economy in a thriving, positive light, it didn’t address the concerns that people actually living it had, which is how we missed the bigger issues. The media coverage of independent workers discussed the following:

Whereas, some of the negative feelings posted on social media from independent workers gathered in the research revolved around the following:

  • Taxes
  • Insurance and other benefits
  • Unemployment
  • Retirement plans
  • Not earning enough
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • And general worry
If you’re a fellow independent worker, that last list probably captures all of the challenges you know too well. And if you’re not currently an independent worker, but considering making the transition? Take note of those.

But Why Don’t We Talk About the Downsides of Freelance?

So why does there seem to be a disconnect between what we read on social versus what we read in the media?

Well, according to Jamali, "Traditional news tries to be objective and present a balanced view of the issue as compared to social media, which is a much more emotional channel given that people often use social to reach out to their networks for encouragement, advice, support or to vent.”

Did you read that and find yourself nodding because you’ve taken to social media to vent about a crazy client, ask advice on an issue, or beg for more work? Yeah. Been there, done that.

But media coverage centers on the large-scale news of the gig economy—and for obvious reasons. For example, a lawsuit against Uber over misclassification of workers is more newsworthy than the general daily struggles of an independent worker. The mundane, day-to-day just isn’t newsworthy.

Jamali said, "Given the size and diversity of the gig economy, coverage about this group can come across as abstract and more like a concept. It’s hard to feel connected to a population that doesn't have just one voice, but is made up of various segments (like parents, retirees or recent graduates)."

As the gig economy continues to grow, it’s fair to speculate that the media coverage will also grow. Hopefully, that means it will more accurately depict the emotions and “dark side” of the gig economy that currently go unmentioned. But it’s probably about time that we all start speaking publicly about our own negative experiences. And for writers like me, that means making an effort to highlight the downsides whenever we’re writing articles like “How to Go Full-Time Freelance” or “The Amazing Benefits of Flex Schedules.”

Do you think there actually is a dark side of the gig economy? Weigh in and let us know your thoughts and experiences below!