The growing war for talent , especially millennial talent, is prompting employers to get creative and offer a new wave of benefits like pet insurance, telemedicine and college loan repayments.
Unfortunately, the fastest-growing part of the employment economy, freelance and contract workers, almost always find themselves left out of that conversation.
The latest Freelancing In America survey from Freelancer’s Union and Upwork, showed the number of US freelancers grew by 7% in five years to 56.7 million, with 35% of American workers freelancing last year.
The entire gig economy may actually be much larger.
Benefits to freelancers?
It is easy to see why companies tap into freelance and contract workers. They often bring specific skill-sets and experience that full-time staff lacks. Employers can access workers from other geographies, for example, who have unique specialties. By the same token, contract workers are often drawn to the flexibility of hours, location and employers or gigs.
Although there are advantages to freelance work, including the potential to make more money, there are some obvious drawbacks. Mainly, the lack of consistent income and access to company benefits including health insurance, causing stress and concerns about accessibility and affordability.
That said, I think freelance workers will soon become the leading drivers in the talent war. The best of the bunch are demanding more and more from their clients. Smart companies that want to continue benefiting from them will need to treat them better and offer incentives. It is time to start thinking of making employee benefits available to contractors.
Extending benefits to freelancers?
In California, a new bill has proposed that gig-economy workers, including those who work for Uber and Lyft, be considered employees, thereby making them eligible for basic health insurance. However, it must be noted that not all freelancers want to be employees.
I know that the subject of advocating extending employment benefits to freelancers may make some HR leaders bristle. Freelancers are known to carry multiple jobs at a time, so the question of liability or responsibility for any single contract worker may come into question. Administering and managing coverage for full-time employees is challenging enough, with individual coverage plans often being uniquely configured for them and running for different terms.
Even when working for the same employer, some workers may be eligible for benefits one month and then ineligible the next, based on hours worked. The burden of adding and removing these workers falls entirely on an employer and adds more complexity, liability and cost to the equation.
The solution may be found in the new wave of tools that are automated, flexible and intended to manage the fluctuation of freelancers who meet eligibility requirements. Since failure to remove an ineligible worker from your list may be a breach of terms with your plan provider, hypervigilance offered through such software is necessary.
Employers may start by offering freelancers access to voluntary benefits. Pet insurance and student loan repayment can be a flexible and manageable way to add value to freelance engagements. Subsidies are also an easier way to contribute without having to deal with the paperwork and red tape associated with traditional medical benefits.
Benefits make a huge difference to an individual — gig workers, part time, or full time employee. Top talent will look for opportunities that acknowledge their needs even while giving them the flexibility they appreciate. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the California bill will be actualized and, if successful, if it will become the playbook for similar efforts nationwide.