By: Tania Fiero, VP of Human Resources

What ruins a good night’s sleep for most American workers? Is it disappearing jobs? Vanishing paychecks? Offshoring?

Actually, it’s none of the above. Consistently since 1997, according to Gallup, U.S. workers have worried more about losing their benefits than any other job-related stressor.

In fact, it should worry employers, too. With gig work on the rise in the U.S., attracting and retaining top contingent workers will become increasingly important. In such a climate, providing benefits to these workers creates a powerful point of differentiation.

Gaye van den Hombergh, president of the nonprofit Winning Workplaces, agrees. “All other things being equal, companies that provide family-friendly benefits to their hourly workforce are more likely to have higher employee retention rates, lower turnover, and a stronger pool of talent that enables them to promote from within,” she says.

Gig is just getting going

If your company doesn’t already employ gig workers, it may well soon. In the U.S., about 44 million people — or 29 percent of the total workforce — perform some sort of gig work. By 2025, gig workers will be the majority.

Who, exactly, does this growing group encompass? Gig workers include temporary workers assigned through staffing agencies, human cloud-based workers, independent contractors with no staff of their own, directly sourced temporary employees, and statement-of-work consultants employed by a consulting firm.

America’s gig workers may be varied, but by and large, their goals are similar: Earn a living by working for many companies, not just one. Yet these nontraditional workers are driven by the same desires as full-time employees. The Society for Human Resources Management’s 2016 Employee Benefits study indicated that virtually all workers will look for better benefits in the next five years.

Is it difficult to offer cost-effective benefits to gig workers? Of course it is. But it’s not impossible, and if current trends hold, it may become essential for companies wishing to compete for this class of workers.

What do gig workers want?
Gig workers, in general, want to work for employers that offer the four following benefits:

  • Professional development

Gig workers come from diverse backgrounds and tend to want specific, personalized development options. Sounds like a tough benefit to offer, right? Surprise! If you utilize gig workers, you’re already doing it.

One of the beauties of gig work is that it gives workers the chance to explore many industries, business models, and ways of working. Each gig they accept advances their abilities and interests, and that’s where you come in.

To provide development opportunities, you don’t need an expensive training team. You just need to make sure your gig workers understand that they’re learning new skills. Share how their work with your company relates to the broader employment market. Don’t underestimate the value in a five-minute conversation about where else their skills can be applied.

For example, if a gig worker is assigned to update your software platform, tell her how the company will benefit. Then, advise her to add the experience to her résumé. The more you treat gig jobs as learning opportunities, the more your contingent workers will appreciate and value working with your organization.

  • Flexible work

Perhaps the most commonly cited benefit of gig work is the flexibility it brings. Does Jane need to be picked up from daycare at noon today? If you’re a gig worker, no problem — just don’t accept an assignment due at noon. Gig workers can set their own schedules; take time off when they want; and spend time with family, at school, or on hobbies.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? While the majority of workers still prefer traditional employment, according to Staffing Industry Analysts’ 2016 “The Gig Economy” report, 44 percent prefer the unparalleled flexibility of gig work.

When you hire gig workers, explain the sort of flexibility they can expect. Are they welcome to work remotely all the time? Is job sharing allowed? Can they work four 10-hour days rather than five eight-hour ones? Remember that, by definition, independent contractors must set their own schedules.

To protect your company and improve recruitment, write or update job descriptions that reflect your flex work policies. Add a clause to your HR policies giving you the right to change flex arrangements as needed. That way, if you find out telecommuting doesn’t work, you can quickly switch without being held liable.

  • Healthcare

Time and time again, employer-provided health insurance tops the list as the most important benefit to full-time workers, and gig workers want it, too. But while most businesses offer full-time employees health insurance at or above the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, gig workers are rarely afforded employer-sponsored coverage.

Unfortunately, gig workers are at a disadvantage here. Independent contractors can’t qualify for group health insurance unless they’ve incorporated and have employees. Human cloud workers face a similar situation. While temporary staffing personnel, contractor payroll, and statement-of-work employees can qualify for some benefits through staffing firms, it’s been difficult for the staffing industry to gain access to truly competitive, comprehensive insurance.

To set your business apart, consider partnering with an employer of record like Innovative Employee Solutions to offer health, dental, and vision benefits to gig workers. Already in Europe, contingent workers partner with contractor payrolling companies to manage taxes and benefits, and this model could also work well in the U.S.

  • Retirement planning

Retirement. It seems far away until it lands in your lap. For traditional employees, 401(k) plans allow them to set aside pre-tax dollars for their golden years. The earlier they start building their 401(k)s, the more tax-advantaged savings they have at retirement.

Contingent workers don’t have this safety net. In most cases, they set aside money in self-funded traditional or Roth IRAs. Finally, some companies are starting to provide them with 401(k)s through contractor payrolling firms. The model helps gig workers create a more stable future for themselves, and employers are under no obligation to provide matching money.

With the gig economy, the nature of work may be changing, but employees’ benefits needs are not. Ultimately, all workers — gig, part-time, full-time, and everything in between — want the same things: fulfilling work that fits their lives today, and a healthy, financially stable future tomorrow.

By helping them achieve that, you’re not just helping the world. You’re keeping your team engaged, happy, and ready for more. That way, everyone can sleep better at night.

Tania Fiero is vice president of human resources at Innovative Employee Solutions, a leading nationwide employer of record that specializes in human relations and payroll services. Founded in 1974 in San Diego, California, IES has grown into one of the city’s largest women-owned businesses and been named one of its “Best Places to Work” for nine years in a row.

An expert in joint employment and the Affordable Care Act, Tania helps employers embrace contingent workers in their staffing strategy and culture. She is a Society of Human Resources Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) via the Human Resources Certification Institution. Tania previously served on the Board of Directors for the National Human Resources Association of San Diego. She was recognized in 2016 by the San Diego Human Resources Forum Board of Directors at its HR Executive of the Year event and in 2011 by the San Diego Business Journal as San Diego’s HR Professional of the Year.

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