Working in the gig economy is now an attractive proposition for many European employees. According to new research, two in three European employees are tempted by the option of being self-employed or freelance.
Almost two thirds (63%) of UK employees said they would consider self-employment or freelancing, with slightly higher numbers for European employees overall (68%), according to the research by ADP, provider of human capital management solutions. The research, entitled ‘The Workforce View in Europe 2017’, also found that just over a quarter (26%) are already actively planning to move their work in this direction.
What’s behind this increasing interest in being part of the gig economy? A third of UK employees say a desire for a better work-life balance is a key motivating factor, although pay is still the number one concern for European employees. Pay was cited as the most important factor in motivation and engagement (47%).
Would UK employees who go freelance fulfill this desire for a better work-life balance? Apparently not, according to the research. Self-employed workers in the UK say they have the poorest work-life balance compared to other industries: only 81% say they have a good work-life balance, compared to 84% nationally.
However, those who are already self-employed to report higher levels of job satisfaction than PAYE workers: 75% versus 70% on average. Flexibility is a key factor, with over a third (39%) of self-employed workers say it is really important for them to be able to choose where and when they work, as well as having a good work-life balance (30%).
Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s the younger generation that are most tempted by working in the gig economy: 37% of 16-24 year olds and 36% of 25-34 year olds are actively considering making their move into self-employment or the freelance life. Men are most interested: 29% are considering it, compared to 22% of women. However, older workers did express an increased desire for complete flexibility in terms of their working hours and place of work.
The research also looked at regional differences, to see where the interest in gig economy work is greatest. It found that Dutch and Spanish employees are the most likely to consider freelancing or self-employment: 34% of Dutch employees are actively thinking about it and 33% of Spanish employees. Which nationalities are the least drawn to the freelance life? German and French employees: 49% of German employees say it doesn’t interest them and 43% of French employees.
How does this latest research compare with other pieces of research into the gig economy? A 2016 study by the Work Foundation found that at the beginning of 2016, the non-permanent workforce (self-employed, temporary workers, unpaid family workers and those on government schemes) accounted for roughly 20% of the UK workforce. That was a very similar number to the beginning of 1996, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. As the report said: ‘Overall then there is not much evidence that the gig economy has so far fundamentally changed the long term structure of employment in either the US or the UK’. However, the report went on to say that this did not mean that those structures of employment won’t change in the future: ‘There are hints at the margin, in more recent periods, with the growth of self-employment that are consistent of an emerging gig economy’.
Interestingly, the Work Foundation report found there was an acceleration of self-employment from the top three occupational groups of managers, professionals and technical staff (high skill) in recent years. Between January-March 2002 and January 2010, the top three occupational groups grew in line with the overall increase in self-employment. Between January-March 2010 and January-March 2016, however, the numbers of those three groups in self-employment grew much faster, accounting for two-thirds of the overall increase of self-employment in that period.
The report included comments from several prominent US business figure who claim that the working world is on the cusp of change, such as this quote: “We’re in the middle of a sea change in how American employment works and that’s a very good thing”, according to Gene Zaine, president and CEO of MBO Partners.
The ADP research was carried about among 9,920 working adults in eight European economies: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.