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The 'Great Resignation' Will Transform the Gig Economy. Are You Ready to Take Advantage?

There are enormous opportunities for freelance workers in the wake of pandemic-related "quits," but also real hazards unless they keep an eye on the horizon.

This past December, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs while 10.9 million jobs remained open, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dubbed the “Great Resignation,” this market dynamic shows few signs of abating, at least in the short term.

In navigating the pandemic, workers were often tasked with re-thinking the way they organize their lives and are now seeking more meaningful careers and asking for healthier work environments, but the Great Resignation is not as simple as workers simply leaving one full-time job to start another. Many are giving up the traditional 9-to-5 structure entirely; 20% of Americans say they are considering a switch to full-time freelance work, according to recent Upwork research.

What does this mean for the future of the gig economy?

As more and more Americans leave jobs, there is a perception that the result will be a boost to the gig economy. Companies are desperate to replace fleeing workers, and the fastest way to do so is by slotting gig-workers into what were once full-time jobs. As a result, demand for freelancers is growing and that worker sector is, for once, in the driver's seat. There is a sense of euphoria for those in the gig economy. Profits are high and people are optimistic that they can make a better life for themselves by striking out on their own. And in some respects, they can, but how long will this fairytale last?

The catch of the Great Resignation

Right now, freelancers may feel empowered, but this optimism ignores fundamental trends of the gig economy. The digital tools that freelancers are using to gain freedom through remote work and flexible hours may also be the very ones that lead to a lower quality of life in the future.

The continued march of progress in digital technology has brought us to a point where it's easier than ever for entrepreneurs to condense complex workflows into a simple set of tasks that can be put on a platform and outsourced. And while these advances are exciting, they also commoditize work, as well as the workforce.

As this commodification continues and competition increases, the prices that workers can charge will lower. Every job, and thus every worker, can be replaced if a company finds someone (or something) who can do it cheaper and faster. We will become engaged in a race to the bottom, and that’s a future in which everyone will lose.

Greater freedom, autonomy and mobility for freelancers is not a bad thing. However, we cannot become so enamored by the promised freedom of the gig economy that we lose sight of the bigger picture and put our future livelihoods at risk.

What we’re missing

I do not mean to say we should never take a risk on a new venture or that the Great Resignation is a net negative. The conversations we’re having around the value of work are important, and I’m glad to see the stigma on independent remote work lessened. The pandemic freed us from outdated notions that the only respectable job is one that requires a suit and tie and a proper offi