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Once something of an Internet buzzword, the gig economy has quickly evolved into a tour-de-force when it comes to attracting top talent. Today, nearly 45 million Americans participate in gig work – either as full-time independent contractors, freelancers, or “side-hustlers” – and that number is only expected to grow as enticements and protections for gig workers emerge. In fact, recent findings from the gig economy report based on MetLife’s 17th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study found 20 percent of full-time employees have a secondary job and of those employees, 49 percent intend to leave their current employer for contract or freelance work in the next five years.

This shift may correlate with the fact that burnout is on the rise among today’s traditional full-time workers. In fact, earlier this year, “burnout” was added to the World Health Organization’s list of official medical diagnoses as a legitimate syndrome. In today’s “always on” culture, workers are drawn to the gig economy by the allure of heightened self-care. More flexible schedules and increased autonomy over projects promise a more cohesive work-life balance – an irresistible perk for the 67 percent of full-time workers who’ve experienced burnout on the job.

To keep pace with the gig economy, companies must understand it. Below is a look at how gig work is speaking to employees’ enhanced focus on self-care – and how traditional employers can, too.

First off, who are today’s gig workers?

Today’s gig workers run the gamut when it comes to age, gender, marital/family status, and education. In fact, research shows baby boomers make up a quarter of all gig workers, 62 percent of gig workers have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 47 percent have children under age 18 – and they all have vastly different needs. If employers want to maintain their workforce and attract new talent to come aboard, their incentives for full-time employees can’t be one-size-fits-all; they must meet the evolving needs of today’s varied workforce.

What draws workers to gig?

Gig workers often see traditional full-time work as restrictive, both in terms of how it fulfills their professional interests, and how it encroaches on their personal lives. In contrast, gig work offers flexibility and autonomy, allowing workers the freedom to pursue projects at their own speed, and on their own schedules. Gigging also enables workers to pursue projects that are meaningful to them and provide them with sense of purpose. In fact, research shows 47 percent of those who gig do so to gain a sense of fulfillment and self-worth, and 45 percent feel more satisfaction in their current freelance and contract jobs than they did in previous traditional 9-5 roles. Therefore, the appeal is two-fold: Gigging offers today’s workers a flexibility that lays the foundation for heightened self-care, and a sense of purpose that improves their overall work-life satisfaction. 

How can companies evolve to meet workers’ needs?

Today’s employers must consider all the draws of the gig economy if they want to maintain and attract top talent; it’s also critical they think broadly when it comes to the needs and desires of their workforce. Increasing remote work capabilities has the potential to appease and attract more workers to traditional 9-to-5 roles in the promise of better work-life balance.

In fact, according to MetLife’s data, 49 percent of gig workers say not being able to work remotely is the reason they left full-time work. Better benefits also have the capacity to entice workers to full-time roles. For example, 29 percent of full-time workers who intend to leave their jobs for gig in the next five years say better benefits may make them stay. Exercising benefits packages that offer both traditional benefits (e.g., dental insurance) and nontraditional benefits (e.g., gym reimbursements) will allow their employees to feel seen and understood by their employer.

In the end, its critical employers prioritize their employees’ holistic well-being if they want to maintain a competitive edge in today’s evolving work-life world. Understanding what workers want and need from their jobs to maintain their health and happiness is the first step toward creating environments where employees aren’t simply working – but thriving.