Are you thinking about leaving your traditional job and entering the gig economy? Is your employer requiring you to return to the office, but you want to continue working remotely? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Marie Gould Harper talks to career services expert Christine Muncy about the “great resignation” and why so many people are leaving the traditional workforce. She also provides tips about becoming a gig worker, which includes evaluating yourself, your time commitment, your skills and then conducting research to assess the demand and pay rate for those skills. Also learn what to do if the job you’re pursuing is advertised as remote, but turns out not to be.
Listen to the Episode:
Read the Transcript:
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Welcome to our podcast today. I’m your host, Marie Gould Harper. My guest today is Christine Muncy. We are going to discuss job search in a gig economy. Christine, welcome to our podcast, and thank you for joining me again. I want to remind our audience of Christine’s background. Christine is an Associate Vice President of Career Services at American Public University. Throughout her career, she has focused on developing new programs and innovative services, which benefit student development, typically focusing on the adult learner.
Christine holds two certifications in the area of career development, and they are Global Career Development Facilitator and Certified Career Services Professional. She has been published on multiple blogs, designs and facilitates comprehensive team builders for corporations, and has presented at various conferences. Christine, welcome.
Christine Muncy: Thanks for having me back, Marie.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: It’s a pleasure. I always enjoy having the conversation with you because we can go all over, and we both tend to be current about what’s going on. That leads me to our main focus today. A lot has happened since our last conversation. I was looking at the calendar, and it’s been four months. The topic that we’re going to discuss today came out of our topic for that particular day. But, based on what you know now, do you think there is still a vibrant gig economy?
Christine Muncy: Yes. I think that there’s a lot of indicators of, it’s actually all over the news, the growth in the desire for independence, the desire for remote work or being flexible in their schedules, and I don’t think that’s going anywhere.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Then, I had a part two of that question. What effect do you believe the gig economy has on so many people saying they’re part of the great resignation? How do the two fit?
Christine Muncy: Yes, so the great resignation, for those who may not be familiar with the term, was actually coined by a professor in the predicting that we would see as the United States this huge movement of people leaving their current work, the traditional workforce, and would then transition to either new work, or be unemployed by choice in, really, response to their employers not being competitive in pay, being flexible, or forcing return to work after being remote successfully for so long.
It was true that in April, a record number of people resigned from their positions, and that was reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that number continued in May. There was this unprecedented number of people who left the traditional workforce, but where did they go? They didn’t all just find new opportunities. Many left without a backup, and a lot of those individuals are then seeking opportunities in the gig economy.
They’re doing things like contract work. They are taking their services online and going to places like flexjobs.com, where they’re taking on temporary positions to do gig work, traditional gig work. They’re doing marketing services, project management services, design, editing, resume writing. There’s all different types of work that people are choosing to do.
I think they’re going to go hand in hand, which is why I think the Gallup poll in June reported that almost half of US workers would prefer a flexible and remote work style, and because of that, the two are absolutely going hand in hand. People are not tolerating having to return to work after doing so well after a year, and they want the flexibility in their life. They want some balance, and they don’t want to just give everything of their time to a job that’s taking 50 hours out of the week. There’s a lot happening there. This is a very interesting time, for sure.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yes, it just seems like that book, “If It’s [Ain’t] Broke, Break It.” It seems like we’ve been thrust into that to be a real-life pilot on how accurate that book is. I’m always fascinated, because there’s some type of headline coming out every day in this particular area.
Now, we talked about people leaving the workforce, and I understand that. Personally, I believe that people used this last year, I’ve heard a number of people say they saved money by working remotely, so they used their savings to pay off some of their bills or outstanding expenses, so that they could be at a point to say I don’t have to go back there. But, I don’t think employers understand that.
Now, some of the pushback from doing remote work, which I believe, like you said, is pushing a lot of people to “let’s just go to the gig economy for flexibility,” is because employers want things to be the way they were. Do you think that’s a mistake? What’s your thoughts on what some of the senior level management teams are doing at organizations by forcing the workers back?
Christine Muncy: I’ve read a lot of articles that interview senior leadership about their impressions of returning people to the office, and I’ve read a lot of articles with the counter-argument against those articles about returning, and the opinions about senior leadership. It seems to be a bit of dissent between the two. Where the individuals, the senior leadership who are saying their reasoning is because they want people to return to be connected, and their culture revolves around their in-person experience. Then that is not aligning with the workforce who is saying we are able to be connected in a way that we wish to be connected, which isn’t always the same as what the company wishes their employees wish to have.
That means that the employee may say, “I come to work, but I’m not trying to be best friends with my colleague. I have a life outside of work, and I choose to keep those separate.” There is a very loud movement of people who are saying that that’s their preference, and that does not align with what these companies who are pushing people back into the office.
That disconnect right there is what I believe is the rub. That’s the challenge between the two forces. Senior leaders who are pushing hard, they’re going to have to do back fills, and they need to do hire for culture. What culture are you trying to create within your workforce in-person, and put that in the front, and that way, people who are looking for work can choose at the front if they want to participate in that. But, the people who are already there, who’ve already had what they needed, which was remote, and they felt connected enough, they will not be happy and they will be eventually leaving.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I totally agree with what you said, and you mentioned something that I just want to take a few minutes to talk about. You mentioned that employers are going to have to state what their intent is, and I believe that wholeheartedly. I also think when they have their advertisements, they have to be completely transparent.
There was a movement that they should be transparent about salaries. Now I think there should be transparency around remote work, as well as another topic I want to bring up to you. In the last week or two, there’s been a lot of articles out there on this topic, and that is the mask mandate. I think that’s another reason why a lot of people are deciding to exit, because of their personal beliefs on the mask. What are your thoughts on the mask mandate, and the workforce as we know it?
Christine Muncy: Yes, I think there’s huge drivers. The vaccine is one, the mask is another. These are pieces that people feel profoundly strong about. For them to feel so passionate about something, it’s important for them to then consider the implication of working somewhere that doesn’t match. It will be an emotional drain on that person.
Regardless of which side it is, it is something that will seep into their being and will go against them, and unfortunately, cause fatigue, burnout, exhaustion, depression. Those things are serious mental health concerns. When a job starts impacting your mental health in a negative way, it’s time to reconsider what is important to you.
I would hope that in the last year and a half, really at this point, and it’s the last year and a half, we’ve learned the value of protecting our mental health. We’ve learned to value what is important to us, but also to not make rash decisions. When something is a red flag to you, or is something that you’re saying “I can’t stand for this.” That you immediately start taking action to take steps towards doing what’s right for you, your family, your circle, whatever it is that you’re protecting, and that you take those steps to do whatever change it is that’s necessary for you. If that’s preparing for a job search, then you do it with intent and you’re focused, and you find something that’s right for you, and that you ask questions in the interview so you don’t find yourself in the same spot you were when you left.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Exactly. I had another question for you, but I want to go along this line. As a career services, career development professional, what are some tips that you have for an individual that has realized that they want to be a part of the gig economy, but they’ve never done anything like that before? Some people are tempted to just start a business. What type of advice would you give to someone in that transition?
Christine Muncy: Right, so this is an excellent question. Again, I always try to be methodical, that’ll be a theme here I guess today is, I say do it with intent. Put your thoughts into it. Do research. Find the right path for you. The first thing I would do is evaluate your skills. Find out what do you have to offer, because there’s different types. There’s marketing, there’s repair work, there’s small engine repair. There’s editors, writers, ethical hacking. There’s tutoring. Then there’s the traditional, what everybody talks about today, it’s not traditional by any means, but it’s the food delivery services and other types of services, the similar. Those all fall within the gig economy. Evaluate yourself first. Evaluate your time commitment.
Evaluate how much effort you can put into it physically. If you’re someone who has illnesses or what have you, that you need to consider, think about would that be a problem for this. Talk about sustainability, and then do your market research. Is there even a demand for what it is that you’re capable of providing within your local area or the broader area? You can do that research online through some simple Google searches. You can go to, a lot of economists will publish in demand areas and the such. Then I would say, moving forward, then you proceed to find the one that’s right for you.
For example, if you’re going to do food delivery, you have to consider the impact on your vehicle. Can your vehicle drive that many miles? What does the gas cost right now? How much time do you have to contribute?
Then you have to think about financial stability. How much do you need to make to subsidize your income, considering you will have to pay taxes at the end, because no one’s taking taxes out for you. Those are all things that you have to consider when approaching this.
If you want to just dabble in it to get started, you start that while working full-time. Then you start building up your savings so that you can invest in your company to grow your company. Spend money to make money, but always ensure that you’re tracking it close enough, you know that you’re actually making a profit.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: One of the things that you stated was while you are employed full-time somewhere else. I know when we started talking about the gig economy, that was possible. But, with all the other factors, such as what appears to be employers exerting some type of control over a person’s personal life. What advice would you give to the person who may be working remotely, but just have been notified by their employer that they have to go back within two weeks, and their desire is not to do so? What type of advice would you give that individual?
Christine Muncy: I would say move quick. And that free time that you have definitely start digging into figure out what would be sustainable for you, and start signing up for things. Start putting things in action. If you’re absolutely not going to be returning in two weeks, one piece of advice that sometimes is not always in favor of the employer that I provide to my clients is, you look out for you. You are number one. Do not tell your employer unless you absolutely have to that you’re not returning. Work until that last day, and then turn in your notice.
I say that because if you turn in your notice, if you’re in an at-will state, they can let you go. That seems just awful and like you might be burning a bridge, but realistically you have two weeks, that’s one paycheck. If you’re like so many other Americans who might be living closer to paycheck to paycheck, you may not have an option but to leave that way.
The first thing I would do is just say what are my options here, and see if you can find something. Then I would start looking at remote jobs. Like I said, FlexJobs is a very popular online job board. Definitely not pushing it and I don’t get any benefits from saying it, but this website is just, there’s so many now, too, but it’s one that people can start applying for those jobs that are online, 100%.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Exactly. Now, I actually had two questions, but because of what you just said I’m going to go one direction. One of the things that was shared with me, I have a personal friend who has embraced this gig economy. Her belief is, I’ll just work six months on and six months off, because she’s been doing it for a while, so financially she’s in a position that she can do that.
However, she mentioned something in her last search, and I want to hear your thoughts on the topic. She is noticing that there are a lot of pop-up consulting companies. I think they’re stating that they will represent these different workers to different employers to be contractors. What they’re noticing sometimes is they may advertise one way and call it a remote position, but when you get in for the interview, whether you’re talking to the third-party consulting firm or the actual employer, it’s almost like a bait and switch that they’re like, “But you can come in, right?” What’s your advice to individuals that are placed in that situation? They’ve seen a job advertised as remote, but it really isn’t remote.
Christine Muncy: I’ve noticed this even in employers, not just what your connection is experiencing. When I am coaching, and when I think about these scenarios that individuals go for, I always say when you apply for a position or you post your interest, or however it might work for that connection, that you will keep a copy of it. You PDF the webpage, you PDF the job somehow, you copy and paste it into Microsoft Word, but you retain that job ad for your own records. That way, especially if you apply for multiple positions with one company, you know what they’re calling you about when they say the random requisition number, or whatever they do to indicate the job you applied for. You can go back and reference, what did I apply for? It’s not always easy when you’re hot applying for jobs and there’s 17 applications a day.
You keep track of what it was and what day you applied, so that when you’re in the interview and they provide this information to you, don’t have to shut them down immediately, even though internally you may panic a bit. Instead, lead with, “It was my understanding that this position would be remote. I do believe that’s what was posted in the position. Has something changed within the organization to where that’s no longer available?”
If they say, “Well, it is available, but we would prefer that someone could come in for two days of orientation,” saying, “There’s a lot of virtual ways that I could absolutely attend, but it is my intention to be a remote employee. I would really love the opportunity to work with your company, but at this time I would need that guarantee that this would continue on a remote path.”
If they said that, that can’t be facilitated and you’re uncomfortable with being in the office, you could say, “I’d love for you to keep my application in mind, but at this time I would need to step out of the process.”
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Okay. I’m glad you said that, because I know me personally, and it’s almost like your advice about the person and the two weeks’ notice, I’m about to say something. I’m not saying it’s the right way, but at this point in my life, I would do it and I have done it.
If you’re in that interview, or if you’ve started that position, and the company does switch some things up, I personally would say, “That was not what was advertised,” or, “that was not our agreement. I thank you for the opportunity, but I don’t think this is a good fit.” Some people are not comfortable with that. What are your thoughts on taking that approach? Do you have any better ones? Or, how would you coach someone in this particular position?
Christine Muncy: For me, I also have a similar personality I think, than yours, so I would be very comfortable just drawing the line there in an interview. But, I have to acknowledge all of my peers and friends and colleagues who would just feel that that is actually a bit confrontational. Even though I do not find that confrontational, I definitely could see how some of my friends who do find that to be, would really struggle under that. In that circumstance, finish out the interview. Knock it out of the ballpark. Make them dream about how amazing you’d be for their company, and then send them an email afterwards and rescind your application. That’s okay too.
Just say, “This was great. This was an amazing opportunity, but I’ve really, upon further reflection of some of the changes that this would be an in-person requirement, I am not comfortable with that as I was under the impression this would be remote. I did come back and check my notes to verify, which is why I didn’t say anything in the interview,” because then they’re not thinking like, “Oh, she didn’t say anything,” or, “he didn’t say anything.”
No, you were saying, “I was checking my notes when I returned home, and if that is the case, if this is no longer remote, I am no longer interested.” But, I will caution people that if they’re making changes like that, do you trust them? People show their faces. Pay attention. Do you trust them?
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Think of this as you’re interviewing them, as well as they are interviewing you. Like a relationship, is this worth the time and effort to enter into? Or have they shown the side of them that’s not going to change, it’s a part of their culture?
Christine Muncy: Absolutely. If I can’t trust someone or a company, if I have lost my faith, if I think that there’s deceptive practices here, what other things may happen? You know what? I could be totally reading too far into it. That could be the other case. But, at least I would know, feeling good about it, saying, “This doesn’t feel right,” and it’s okay.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Well, Christine, I want to thank you so much for joining me today, and I want to say share your expertise, but I think you have given some very practical tips to individuals that are faced with a situation of a lifetime, and they really don’t have the experience or know the answers. They could go on the internet and Google all day, but you’ve been very concise and clear with your responses. I think you’ve been very authentic and practical.
Christine Muncy: Thank you.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Any last words?
Christine Muncy: The only thing, I would like to give one piece of advice, is to really consider when you look at the gig economy, what your health insurance and benefits would look like, and that you protect yourself for the future. That’s the only lasting piece of advice I wanted to give, is to make sure people really protect themselves if they choose that path.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Then, look for those companies, because I will assume some more will pop up, that have services and packages that are geared towards those type of employees. Yeah, because I have a number of friends that do this, and from what I hear, especially if they’re working for a consulting service, that the consulting services have started to be that company instead of the employer that will go out and secure benefits packages so that the contractors can take a part in it. A lot of times not exactly like you would have in an actual employer, but something is better than nothing.
Christine Muncy: Precisely. Thank you, I just wanted to add that last tip.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: We have been speaking with Christine Muncy. This is Marie Gould Harper, thanking you for listening to our podcast today. Have an amazing one.