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View: India Inc should start investing in Gig Value Proposition

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The Economic Times
24th November, 2021 10:53 IST

Several months after a disastrous COVID-19 Second Wave that ravaged lives and livelihoods, from a pandemic standpoint, India seems to have finally stepped into a winter of hope. In corporate boardrooms and industry forums, there is now fresh interest in how to hire, nurture and retain the best talent that the marketplace offers. In other words – an interest in Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Recruiters across organizations are vying with each other, to turn The Great Attrition of our times into the Great Retention, as the battle for talent intensifies. While this renewed focus on EVP is welcome, company leaders would be well advised to also start betting on its much-neglected sibling – Gig Value Proposition, or GVP. Among the many changes wrought by the pandemic in the workplace is the way organizations hire and work with gig (as compared to full-time) workers. From all indications, companies will likely see a shift from hiring full-time employees on a bulk scale to engaging on-demand, contract or freelance workers – a shift that may become the new norm.

A quick glance at some recent projections strengthens this hypothesis. In January 2021, the Economic Survey of India 2020-21 stated that India had become one of the largest markets of flexi-staffing in the world, due to a widespread adoption of online retailing and e-commerce. Later in the summer, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) estimated that India’s gig economy would grow at a compounded annual rate of 17%, reaching $455 billion by 2023. And according to another report published by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, India’s gig economy is poised to triple in the next 3-4 years, catapulting from 8 to 24 million jobs, in the non-farm sector. The total number of gig jobs could soar to 90 million in 8-10 years, contributing to 1.25% of the nation’s GDP in this longer horizon. As an anecdotal point of comparison, in March 2021, the organized IT-BPM sector in India employed around 4.5 million professionals.

Crafting a compelling GVP presents an interesting creative challenge. Rehashing the usual EVP offerings would be an obvious mistake. This is because the work practices that make an organization a sought-after employer for full-time workers may not be as attractive to gig workers. Training interventions, offsite retreats and other initiatives clubbed under “Employee Engagement” often seem have an organizational focus, and may not be immediately compelling to gig workers – or at the very least, need to be revisited. From PF, HRA and LTA to gratuity and medical insurance for the family, gig workers aren’t entitled to financial benefits that are par for the course, for full-time employees. Meaningful CSR projects and commitment to a Green Footprint may be appealing to prospective full-time hires, but do they necessarily hold the same importance for a freelancer working on a 6-month assignment? A social media strategy that shows the company in a favourable light is imperative, but this brings us right back to the moot question – what sort of social media posts are likely to attract the best gig talent?

The constituents of any compelling GVP would, by definition, need to evolve as the workplace continues to disrupt itself. But the starting point has to be a genuine commitment on the part of employers and managers, to dedicate time to such a project, and not cut corners. Here are a few areas where they might wish to focus their energies.

Better Work-Life Integration: In the new Work From Anywhere (WFA) mode of operating businesses, employees see their normal working hours stretched, at times seeping into the weekend, and are compelled to live with it. Gig workers, however, are zealously proprietorial about their independence, and in particular, their “me time”. While deadlines and deliverables stand unchanged, leaders and managers must find newer ways of keeping freelancers engaged. Flexible working hours, allowing adequate breaks during the day, an emphasis on productivity and outcomes over hours worked, are only some of its ingredients. In our pandemic times, the traditional micro-managing style of getting work done has undergone a mutation. Managers now demand multiple check-in calls and updates during the course of the day – but for any GVP to be effective, this approach will need to take a permanent backseat.

Co-Creation of Value: The widespread grouse against gig workers globally, in comparison to full-time personnel, is that they lack in commitment, as well as in what organizations call “employee loyalty”. But the argument works both ways. A purely piece-meal, transactional attitude of employers with regard to gig workers only serves to perpetuate apathy on part of the latter. The equation changes to the advantage of both parties, when the attitude of the employer shifts to one that appreciates the co-creation of value through gig work. Work practices that encourage crowdsourcing of ideas, innovation, and recognize the power of individual contribution are all steps in the right direction. Gig workers, even if working for a short time, are likely to be more engaged in their work, when they know that their individual contributions are appreciated and also experience a sense of shared pride when they feel part of a larger creative, constructive process.

Reimagining Talent Fitment: Currently, corporates have started to pay considerable attention to the recruitment process, especially the adoption of AI and online assessments to expedite and streamline the screening process, and aid in selecting the right candidate. The same imperative applies to the hiring of the right gig talent and retaining their services on future assignments. Contrary to the easy, fit-to-order notion about around the selection of gig talent, there is a cost associated with hiring freelancers who are a good fit, and based on their performance, earmarking them for future assignments. This cost factor becomes more important over time, as the hiring of gig workers intensifies, in turn increasing the need for mechanisms to ascertain gig fitment. Organizations could first arrive at a competency matrix, based on the skills and attributes of gig workers required across assignments, and deploy curated online assessments to evaluate candidates on their fitment for the roles.

Infusing “Gigness” into Culture: Organizational culture is so much more than the vision and mission statements published on a website. It spans an array from shared values, attitudes and work practices to the working conditions and environment, policies, procedures, the support, recognition and opportunities that an organization provides to its people. As gig hires increase, the culture needs to be calibrated, to take them into account. Including the modalities of working with freelancers is a good place to start. The provision of rewarding high-performing gig workers in the same manner as employees, could be an attractive proposition. Another could be extending corporate memberships and discounts for services ranging from cab hires to restaurants, travel and hospitality, privileges that senior fulltime employees are entitled to. Such an offer, reserved for seasoned gig workers with specialised skills, would provide a clear signal to those professionals about the value of their work, in the eyes of the organization.

The aspects discussed above are far from exhaustive. But it is hoped that they will provide some context and food for thought to company leaders, as they work in the gig factor into their overall scheme of business plans and operations.


Avik Chanda is CEO-Founder of NUVAH ELINT LLP, thought leader, and bestselling author of “From Command To Empathy: Using EQ in the Age of Disruption”.

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