An Introduction to the Gig Economy: Part 1 – How did we get here?

Every year there seems to be a new buzzword in the workplace. This year the phrase that’s on everyone’s lips is ‘gig economy.’ But what exactly is a gig economy? Is it a meaningless term that will disappear as quickly as it appeared while the work world continues on as it always has? Is it something you need to know about or can you simply ignore it until it fades into memory?

Essentially, the on-demand gig economy or talent-based economy is a complete rethinking of the way we work, so you might want to take notice because it could change everything. According to, “A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.”

So where did this gig economy come from? In two words: technology and millennials.

As technology gallops forward at ever increasing rates, the demands for highly skilled employees also increases. Skilled workers can write their own tickets, and Generation Y is realizing this. They want autonomy over their careers. They want to work when they want and play when they want. They don’t want to be tied down to the traditional employment-retirement cycle of the last few generations. And when referring to a job, millennials often use the word ‘gig.’

Millennials are different. We already know that. They grew up in a different world than previous generations and have a different outlook on the world. But then we could say the same about every generation. The reason we give each generation a different name is because they are all different.

Social researchers identify six distinct generations in the past 100 years.

The GI Generation (born from 1900-late 1920), also called the Greatest Generation, lived through the great depression and two world wars. They were community-minded team players who built nations. Family oriented, they had strong values and even stronger morals. They dealt with adversity, and as a result tried to make the world better. They spread unions and wanted job security. They believed in loyalty, responsibility and civic duty. They grew up without modern conveniences and are often described as the ‘make-do’ generation.


The Silent Generation (born from 1930-end of WWII) were ‘traditionalists’ who cut their teeth during the depression or Second World War. Also called the Veteran Generation, many fought in World War II where they learned sacrifice, discipline and caution. They wanted their children to have it easier than they did and pushed modern conveniences while holding onto traditional values. These cautious conformists dreamed of retirement when they could rest from 40+ years of work.


Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), freed from the depression, war and the hard labour of their parents’ generation had time to party. But they also had time to consider the state of society and what was wrong with the ‘traditional’ world that had created the conflicts that had come before. They spent their youth fighting to build a better world. With revolutionary success under their belts, they moved on to personal success and became the yuppies of the ‘me’ generation. By the 1980s, they were working for the same establishment they’d fought against in the 1960s. But unlike their parents, they’re loyalty was to themselves not their employers. They’re often described as self-righteous and self-centered, but they’re also collaborative and confident.

Generation X (born from 1965-1980) kids were the first generation more affected by their parents than by society or world situations. They were taught to be individuals and entrepreneurs and some believe their parents made life too easy for these children. Those born in this period were left alone (often in front of a TV) more than any other generation and don’t relate to each other as a group. This may be because they didn’t go through a war or revolution together. Many lacked the discipline and commitment of their parents. Some felt ‘entitled’ and struggled with debt. But most had a desire to learn new things and better themselves, and they are considered independent and inclusive.


Generation Y covers the birth years leading up to the millennium. The ‘millennials’ began to come of age around the turn of the century. This generation grew up in a digital world where information was readily available but where in-person interactions were secondary. They are driven and focused, and in a reverse to recent generations, respect authority. Most have never been told no and consider there are few limitations on what they can expect for themselves and for the world. They believe in work and career, but also in play and personal growth. They see no reason why they can’t have it all and are pushing the world to let them.

As we move further into this millennium, Generation Y is making its mark on the work world. Millennials are the reason we may be moving into a gig economy.

In “The Future of Work” published in May 2016, PriceWaterhouseCoopers reported “66% see the future of work as a world full of possibility and believe they will be successful.”

But is this on-demand economy the future or is it happening now? wrote on May 31, 2016, “The much-touted gig economy, where contract experts work for shorter-term engagements, is underway.”

Continued in Part 2: Where are we now?

Resources & References Definition of Gig Economy
PWC: The Future of Work Report Five Reasons Why the Gig Economy Could be a Game Changer for HR

Photos from Wikimedia Commons and

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