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Feature Story

July 2019

Research Looks at Gig, External Workers

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If you want your external, or gig, workers to do their best work, recognizing them and saying thank you may be a key. This, according to new research conducted by SHRM and SAP SuccessFactors. The research suggests that some common thinking about external workers, widely referred to as "gig workers," simply doesn't hold up.

For example, despite the popular perception that most external workers can't find a steady full-time job, the majority (74 percent) indicated that is not the case. In fact, nearly one in five external workers prefer external work, and about one-third reported earning more money as an external worker. When asked what persuaded them to become an external worker, respondents cited three top reasons:

  • Setting their own schedules (49 percent)
  • Choosing how many hours they work (40 percent)
  • Working from any location (33 percent)

Notably, workers and organizations shared two major reasons for their interest in external work: autonomy and flexibility. Workers want flexibility in hours and location; employers appreciate the flexibility to increase and reduce their workforce based on business demands.

The research also found that both managers and HR may not really understand what motivates external workers and makes them feel most positive about work. Managers and HR both overestimated the extent to which an opportunity for an internal position motivated external workers, and somewhat underestimated external workers' interest in bonus compensation for good work.

Surprisingly, external workers reported "being recognized for contributions at work" as the factor that most encouraged them to perform their best and said that being thanked—more than a bonus or being paid on time—was the factor that made them feel the most positive about a work experience.

"The size and importance of the external workforce continues to grow. As a society, we need to create conditions where external work is a more viable work arrangement for businesses and workers alike," said Autumn Krauss, principal scientist, Human Capital Management Research, SAP SuccessFactors. "The first step in doing this is understanding all stakeholders' points of view, which we've done with this research program. Our research with SHRM will help organizations increase the maturity of their approach to external workforce management through better cultural integration, total workforce practices and technology applications, resulting in a positive external worker experience and business impact."