The definition of employee is beside the point, says The Team’s employee engagement expert, Cliff Ettridge. What’s important is loyalty, and that’s increasingly hard to earn in the gig economy.
Employee is a word that used to have a clear-cut definition. But in today’s emerging gig economy, it’s up for debate whether ‘employees’ includes freelancers, contractors, part-timers, zero-hour contractors, and so on. But here’s the thing. When it comes to brand loyalty, the definition of employee doesn’t even matter. Here’s why.
Everyone who works for you is a worker. This is something Charlie Mullins at Pimlico Plumbers recently discovered in court, and Uber continues to fight. Workers represent your brand. But how can you create loyalty with workers in the gig economy when, by its nature, you haven’t exactly offered the same in return?
- Build their business alongside yours
With any freelancer, you’re giving them the keys to the safe. They get access to clients, ideas and talent – that’s a rich set of contacts and knowledge. Sure, they sign non-disclosure and non-compete agreements, but the value of this info is worth much more than their day rate. Trust is part of the deal. Advertise your freelance opportunities and allow workers (where client agreements allow) to promote what they do for you. Many sites like Topcoder or Upwork have been exceptional in creating opportunities for freelancers to market their work.
- Create an insider’s marketplace
Not all freelancers are the same. Some you love working with; some deliver exceptional results. Others… well, the less said the better. Sites like Checkatrade already exist to give homeowners the opportunity to rate tradespeople. Why not encourage your freelancers to join talent and job sites that give them the same opportunity? If you’re a hirer, leave reviews. It’s a confidence game. Genuine reviews will help them to secure more contract opportunities – something they’ll thank you for.
- Relevant rewards can be more valuable than cash
Uber have recognised this with Momentum and the sixth star: a form of recognition that customers can give to drivers. A coveted sixth stars triggers a financial reward, whereas Momentum delivers benefits to help drivers improve their business, such as car maintenance and phone plans. Uber’s also partnered with accounting services to help its workers stay legit. What do your workers need? Could your people ease their admin burden or strengthen their skills or brand? Be warned though: rewards can’t make up for poor leadership behaviour.
- Play to your unique strengths
Every business has an USP. From proprietary training to creative assets or software, your products and services are something you could offer for free or discounted to increase the loyalty of your ‘gig’ workers. Most companies aren’t offering these benefits to freelancers yet, but public policy is urging them to catch up.
- Get to know more than their skills
It’s about respect. If you value their skills; value the person too. When they have a birthday, send them best wishes. Follow them on social media. Read their blogs. Like it. Comment. This isn’t entirely altruistic, as it also encourages loyalty and advocacy of your product, but objective third-party support is valuable to both parties.
Fifteen per cent of the UK workforce is self-employed – and it’s a growing population. While the gig economy allows workers to find employment on their terms, it also creates challenges for employers who don’t know how to tap into loyalty when they’re sourcing skills. Yet creating loyalty with gig economy workers is no different than with the traditional employee. It’s quid pro quo. So time to start thinking about what you have to offer.
Read Cliff’s other blogs in our series? Workspace & Headspace, Forget about email. Give employees the digital tools to build an empire and How storytelling helps employees understand and embrace change