Sometimes I'm noticing something, sort of aware of it, but not knowing exactly how to describe it, what to call it or if it even has a name. And just as frequently, I find that people smarter than me have been not only observing the same thing, but also quantifying it and given it a name. In this manner, today I came across gigonomics, a new word that encapsulates what I'm seeing all around me.
Gigonomics refers to the hundreds or thousands of professionals -- I don't think anybody knows exactly how many, beyond knowing it's a a number big enough to talk about -- who once had solid full-time positions that consumed all their time, talent and skill, but now find that work and earnings come on the basis of a few hours consulting here, a few hours freelancing there. In other words, they have a gig here and a gig there, hence the term gigonomics. A superb description of the trend, including a survey with actual numbers, is fleshed out in The Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-01-12/the-gig-economy/2/ (They posted it in January 2009, but I never said I was going to break news in this blog.)
I've known all along that the economy collapsed, with casualties measured monthly in the rising unemployment rate. What I didn't have, and now do, is a name for the survivors, the people who didn't lose everything, who didn't become unemployed, not completely anyway, but who are not in the same place at all in their work life. These people didn't take another job with lesser pay or lower ranking. Instead, they're hodge-podging.
I have a friend who after a series of successful jobs as newspaper editor, launched and published a magazine profitably for five years, her dream enterprise. She had to fold it when the real estate market collapsed. Now she writes a newspaper column once a week, while consulting for a friend who owns a company, while getting a graduate degree, through which she got another gig writing a chapter for a textbook.
I have another friend whose job with a hotel newsletter publisher came to an end, so now she has a gig running one of the affiliated Web pages of a daily newspaper, and occasionally fills in for editors who go on vacation, and takes any other freelance work that comes her way. (This friend occasionally gives me a free-lance gig off of one of her gigs.) I know of another acquaintance who founded a non-profit, local, hard news blog, whose stories are sometimes picked up, for pay, by local newspapers.
Granted that print media would be filled with such stories, given the double-whammy of Internet competition and the collapse of major advertisers. But gigonomics isn't circumscribed to print media. I know a psychologist whose position in human resources in a metal manufacturing company was eliminated, so he went back to his roots as a therapist, getting some hours in the public school system and some hours in private practice. I know an accounting assistant whose work week was cut to four days, so with her extra time she is now buying clothes in the U.S. and selling it in South America, and actually turning up a dollar. I know a commercial investment advisor whose business dried up with the freezing of the credit markets, so he now consults on any related topic for clients who already had capital on their side of the table.
Recently I met a middle school teacher whose full-time job, which still exists, has morphed into a disparate collage of classes and clubs and administrative duties, filling in as she is for several people who are not working in that school anymore. It's like even the people who are still employed full time have to shuffle old gigs with new gigs within their organizations. It's all more molecular and piecemeal, whether on or off the regular payroll.
All this enerprise is great, but no one's becoming rich from it, which is one difference between now and before. There's always been consultant career paths and freelance career paths looming out there for any corporate employee who wanted to pursue it. But before the economic meltdown, people pursued these out of desire and opportunity to take their careers one step beyond their present station in some way, financially or otherwise. Today, it's survival.
As others have noted, people in the lower income levels have always gone about gigging in order to make ends meet. Established business owners and entrepreneurs also, in a way, are all about finding, keeping and growing a gig. (Just that it's not called a gig when you're established and with a multi-person payroll.) What is new is the kind of people who now gig for a living.
I'm not saying it's bad, or at least not all bad. Giggers are liberated from the rigors of full-time devotion to one employer. Further, they have more ownership of their gigs than they ever did of their jobs, allowing them to dream it as big as they want. I see friends and acquaintances shaping and naming their gigs into corporate sounding activities, adding CEO and Owner to their email signatures, as well they should.
For my part, I have a job that became part time before the meltdown, a move I had pursued voluntarily in order to spend more time with my daughter. I now think this move saved my job by making me cheaper. I get no benefits or paid time off, and it seems to me my employer welcomes the occasions when I take a day off, cutting my hours even more for that week.
In addition, I freelance occasionally for a local newspaper, at about a fifth of the fee I remember getting for freelance work when I was a full time reporter. And then I have this blog, on which one day I might have a Google ad, and of which I am the sole founder and CEO.