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Rewarding the Gig Worker Through Recognition

For better or worse, companies such as Airbnb, Lyft and Uber have changed the face of the economy.

Perhaps their biggest contribution to that change was showing how technology could be used to enable a gig economy, allowing people more freedom to set their own schedules, be their own bosses and make a living on side jobs instead of structured career tracks.


Building a career used to involve hustling within a corporate structure, competing for better work and better pay according to fixed rules, schedules and milestones. Now, we’ve arrived at an age where a person can not only subsist on contract work and freelance gigs, but also make a comparable living outside the corporate system. As a result, the number of independent contractors is growing quickly. In January, ride-hailing company Lyft Inc. had 1.4 million U.S. drivers — doubling its workforce in one year.

The “2018 MBO Partners State of Independence in America” report showed that some 42 million American workers considered themselves an independent worker or contractor in some form or another. That’s roughly one-third of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimated 159 million labor ready U.S. workers. Intuit estimates that by 2020 — in just two years — the percentage of contract workers will be closer to 40%.

While full-time payroll jobs are in no immediate threat of being replaced by contract jobs, the definition of work is evolving. In 2018, if a person doesn’t feel that they fit into the 9-to-5 mold, they don’t necessarily have to, and there are a fast-growing number of alternatives to choose, including jobs that don’t require long commutes, meetings and workplace distractions.


With the fundamental way that work is changing so rapidly, it would be a mistake to not re-examine how organizations should approach engaging their workforces. In the past, recognition and rewards relied heavily upon things such as milestone recognition and tiered awards to plot a visible career path for the employees. If they worked hard and continued to achieve, they could earn greater and greater recognition from their employer (with the best rewards usually saved for retirement).

In modern times, celebrating service milestones is the bare minimum a company can do. Employees expect more emphasis on daily personal achievement and rewards can’t be locked away by tenure walls. They have less patience for purity tests, and why shouldn’t they, when it’s just as easy to take the next paying gig down the street?

That is precisely why recognition and incentive providers have pivoted their focus to more universally appealing forms of recognition that offer a wide variety of rewards to anyone willing to earn them. This includes point-based rewards “currency” programs, peer-to-peer nomination initiatives and social media-type rewards networks.


In most cases, gig workers are not eligible for traditional benefits, including employer-sponsored health care, and they are not covered by minimum-wage protections. Congress last year introduced legislation that could give benefits to independent contractors, but in the meantime, employee recognition can help engage gig workers and connect them to a company’s culture. Modern recognition technology can play a big part in engaging these employees, as it is geared toward enabling organizations to recognize employees for any reason, even if it’s to briefly share support with a few words. This comes in handy when trying to make quick impressions on a fast-moving succession of contract workers.

Investing time and effort into engaging gig-based, freelance and contract workers can offer:

  • Repeat business. Much like customers, if contract hires feel welcomed, there’s more incentive for them to continue working for the organization. There is no reason to think short-term employees can’t eventually become valued members of the team.
  • Better networking. Networking and relationships are top concerns for freelancers. They are always on the lookout for opportunities to develop good professional fits for their skills. Making a great impression increases the chances that employees will recommend the organization in their own networks.
  • A positive work environment. Regardless of the shape of the workforce, always fostering a positive work culture encourages employee loyalty and engagement and can even help promote a company’s brand.

To understand how to best leverage employee recognition to engage contract workers, first examine the engagement drawbacks of shortterm or temporary employment:

  • No traditional benefits. Employee-sponsored health care, paid leave and retirement benefits are largely unavailable to gig workers.
  • No daily contact. In many cases, contract workers never set foot in corporate offices and do all of their work remotely. This can severely hamstring relationship-building and feedback efforts.
  • Fewer recognition channels. There are far fewer opportunities for recognizing achievements and engaging employees with company culture when they are dispersed.
  • Weaker peer connections. Due to the fleeting nature of their employment, contract workers can be easily overlooked or, worse, ostracized, putting a chill on peer-to-peer interactions.



Gig-based work carries with it an inherent deficiency of human interaction that must be backfilled to build a meaningful relationship. This is mission-critical to employee engagement. This is where recognition can help. For example:

  • Digital appreciation. Provide more flexible recognition options with entirely digital methods such as eCards, virtual gift cards and social media features. The more channels companies have to quickly share recognition far and wide, the better.
  • Personal check-ins. Stay in sight and top of mind with contract workers by being diligent about regularly checking in to share informal praise and give feedback. Don’t be a flake; really take the time to get to know them and seize the opportunity to connect.
  • Handwritten cards. People appreciate handwritten cards for their effort. Even a simple thank you card can go a long way to make a good impression.
  • Self-registration. If recognition software allows self-registration with personal emails, it should be actively promoted, so employees without corporate email addresses can still sign up and participate in available initiatives. This also helps keep them in the loop with colleagues.
  • Spot recognition. On-the-spot recognition solutions also are handy in situations for which employees lack corporate email access. Preloaded recognition cards grant access to self-contained gift catalogs that do not require registration but can still be tracked by HR departments.
  • Contractor gifts. If recognition programs include personalized welcome kits or gift packages for new hires, it’s a cinch to adapt them into a “contractor gift package” that can serve as formal recognition for their services. It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to make it memorable.

Recognition for fast-growing organizations that rely on gig-focused or contract workers should offer a consistent and motivating employee engagement experience. As this sector of the workforce grows, there will be changes in the way that all employees think about the flexibility of their work-life effectiveness and careers. Companies will need to rapidly evolve their employee engagement strategies to build employee loyalty, retention and a positive work culture.

Cord Himelstein Cord Himelstein  is vice president of marketing and communications with HALO Recognition.


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