The gig economy in India is real and growing.  So much so that CEOs of large enterprises like Wipro are saying that moonlighting employees are cheating.  Now I don’t remember everything I learned during my MBA but I do recollect that as per Indian law you cannot prevent a person from making money in their spare time. Lots of caveats and fine print but basically if I clean your house for 8 hours you shouldn’t stop me from cleaning your neighbour’s house for another 8. Unless I use your mop and cleaning materials to do so.

Let’s go exclusive

White collar workers don’t qualify for overtime. The expectation is that you are available to work a little extra when required. In return the company will continue to pay you on the occasions that you have a little less work. The company also gives you paid holidays, lends a helping hand when you are unable to work, and may provide you with valuable training and certifications. Depending on your industry, you may even get housing, transport, gym access, daycare, massages, pet care.. You get the picture. A load of benefits in return for exclusivity.
Rishad Premji of Wipro is upset about employees taking all the relationship goodies and then also working on the side. It seems unfair that you’d pay money, provide all these wonderful intangibles and that the person consuming the gig service just does pay-for-play. We are seeing a shift in the workplace – no putting the genie back in the bottle.

The Future Workplace

Here’s the writing on the wall:
1. If a work product can be broken into measurable deliverables that can be executed by an individual or small team then it will transition to the gig economy. You, as a client, may still be dealing with a company, but the company will get work done through the gig economy.
2. If you need a large body of people available at your disposal you will have to figure out how to retain these folks – typically money plus intangibles similar to today’s compensation structure
3. If you need a specialist available at your disposal, you will have to figure out how to retain them – again money plus intangibles is the usual route.

40L – 40Y Death Cliff

Some years ago I wrote about the 40L-40Y death cliff. If you’re an employee making Rs 40 Lakhs or more and are above 40 years old, you are likely to be in the crosshairs of any cost-cutting or org improvement initiative. Unless you are in category 3 – a specialist that is required to be on call all the time – you are most likely to be cast out into the gig economy whether you like it or not. If you’re in this boat, you need to quickly consider your options and build your personal moat of skills and relationships. You might even want to test the waters of your gig-ability before taking the plunge (or being pushed off the plank).

Stay Safe

My advice to everyone is to continue to invest in themselves and make themselves relevant. Some of the shifts are huge. For example, when Instagram moves from photographs to videos, not every photographer or Instagrammer can reinvent themselves to the new format, let alone those who thrived as copywriters in the 2000s. You also have to keep exploring adjacencies – just in case your core strength gets automated.

Happiness is overrated

As a result of these shifts, it isn’t just employers who will be unhappy. It will also be employees and workers of all sorts. But that’s ok – we may need to revisit our expectations of happiness from an organization. Just as we live with the defects and hard-to-get-service of an Apple because the core product is good in our minds, we may also have to focus on being ’satisfied’ at work rather than “happy”. I wrote about this too a few years ago – maybe these trends are cyclical, but building more momentum every cycle. (I’m a bit sour on Apple today – having had to replace a 3 year old laptop and iPad yesterday.)
Recently there was a question on an entrepreneur group on what can you do if a competitor decides to poach your staff. The consensus was that there is no magic bullet but that you have to focus on hiring people who see a longer term value in associating with you. The convenience of working with you has to somehow exceed the immediate jump in money promised by the other party. Pretty tough to deliver, though it has been done, especially by organizations who are able to derive value from non-standard or high-in-demand skillsets.

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I really appreciate you, dear reader.


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