The Gig Economy

The 9-to-5 Routine Gets Turned on its Head with Flexible Hours, New Worker Needs

By Gina Gallucci-White | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 01.10.19 – Feature, Lifestyles, People & Places

On a typical week, Frederick resident Emily Greene works Thursdays through Sundays at Attaboy Beer as a part-time taproom staff member. Her remaining schedule is dedicated to Soul Tribe Creations, her custom woodworking, wreath-making and floral-design company, while completing blacksmithing school.

Formerly an event planner, Greene decided to take on part-time work after her mother died two years ago. “When that happened, my whole world shifted,” she says. “I used to live in this state of fear and stress and anxiety and when I lost her that went away. I quit my job and I went to Costa Rica [in January 2018] and I decided that I am not going to allow myself to feel that stress anymore. If I am, it is going to be inflicted on me by me, and I have to deal with that constructively, but I am going to do what makes me happy. I think we all, at the end of the day, need that. We have to have something else that brings us joy and that we can escape to—to give us something more.” 

Growing up, Greene helped in her aunt’s floral business with wedding arrangements and wreaths. “I loved [wreath-making] because you could just pick and pull and glue,” she says. “That was just the coolest thing in the world to me.” 

During her Costa Rica trip, she saw local people living with way less than what she has, but making everything that they wanted. “That is when I came home and it was like, ‘I’m doing this [business]. I am going to make this into bigger than what I have.’” While she had been making items for years informally, Soul Tribe Creations officially began in May. 

While working at Attaboy, she will often talk with customers who ask to see her creations. “I did not fully grasp how devoted Frederick was as a community until I started working at Attaboy,” Greene says. “… It’s created a boom. Ever since I started working at Attaboy, I’ve never made more wreaths or tables in my entire life and it’s all truthfully because of Attaboy and the people I have met, which is really, really cool.” 

Most residents are familiar with the traditional employment model of working 40 hours a week for the same employer. Yet, over the past few years, many workers are taking on part-time or seasonal work as part of the gig economy. “Nowadays, what we have really seen is that contingent and temporary labor markets really have been growing and they have been growing because the nature of work has changed,” says David Gurzick, associate professor of management science at Hood College. “Accessibility to these services comes hand-in-hand with opportunities to participate in them.”

Companies that are leading the gig economy have made headway in reducing barriers to enter the marketplace, making it easier for individuals to take on these jobs. Gurzick compares a waiter to an Uber or Lyft driver. The individual waiting tables has to pre-establish a schedule, work entire shifts and does not have the flexibility to decide to work or not at a moment’s notice. “Driving for Uber or Lyft seems more aligned to our consumer habits in a growing demand economy,” he says. “… It seems to me the gig economy is a melting pot of workers with different motivations.” 

The motivations for joining the gig economy are divided into two main camps. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found 42 percent of participants did it for fun and/or as a way to spend their free time, while 37 percent participated to help with changes in income (translation: they needed extra money). 

Attaboy Beer owner Carly Ogden notes the brewery’s five-hour shifts in the late-afternoon and early-evening hours are appealing to their part-time staff. Many employees work day jobs or are in graduate school. “We really enjoy all of these people who have different aspects of life,” she says. “We really enjoy that our team has so many other things going on and we have a great camaraderie with people because they are here for a short time, but when they are behind the bar they are happy to serve some beer with a smile.”

Ogden notes the new generation of employees want flexibility in their schedule along with a love of their work. “I think our parents’ generation had their job and that was their career and I think a lot of times people in the younger generation are trying to find something that they really love and they are passionate about,” she says. “It doesn’t always mean you are passionate about something that makes a lot of money. To get there, I think they have to put in that hustle and working hard and I think it is a unique [aspect] that I think defines that 20-to-35-year-old group that is growing up at the moment.” 

WALKING THE WALK

When her first child started kindergarten, Kristy Houck wondered what she could do. She needed something to keep her busy and earn money, but she also needed a flexible schedule because her husband’s job did not have flexibility. “I knew if there was a doctor’s appointment that needed to be made or something like that, I was going to be the one who needed to cover that,” she says. 

With a passion for dogs and a love of animals, she joined Beyond Barks in 2012 as a pet sitter. Later that year, the Frederick resident bought the business that offers daily dog walking, pet sitting and services, and dog training. 

Employees range from college students looking to make money for school to retirees wanting something to do who work as many hours as they want to pick up. Shifts run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with a two-hour window for each visit so employees can pick which time frame suits their schedules. “The flexibility is nice not only for days and times of day, but also for the amount of hours,” Houck says. 

Houck’s daughter, Chloe, is an accounting major at the University of Maryland. She has worked at her mom’s company for several years. “It’s fun,” she says. “I never get up and I’m like, ‘I hate going to work.’ It’s always a fun experience. It’s a really enjoyable way to pay for college. Each day is different. The animals are always happy. Dogs that I walk every day—you build a relationship with them. They get happy when you get there. … I just feel like the quality of life is higher when you can do something that you love.”

Beyond Barks’ most popular services are during the midday, focusing on walks; business is also busy during the summer vacation season and over the holidays. “I think it is wonderful that there is the side gig option now for people,” Kristy Houck says. “… Now more than ever I think people need flexibility or they need extra income due to household issues or emergencies that come up. I think finding your passion and being able to pursue that even if you can’t do it in your Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 grownup job, if you will. There are a lot of other options to really fulfill you personally out there. I am a huge believer in finding your passion and then making it part of your life to have that balance.”

SEASONED WORKERS

Mount Airy’s Gaver Farm annually hosts a Fall Festival from September to November with dozens of activities for local families. It also offers Christmas trees in late November to December. A majority of its seasonal employees are high school students on their first jobs. The others are retired or parents of school-aged children. “It’s something for them to do and supplemental income for a month or two of the year,” says Laura House, Gaver’s office manager. 

The festival involves workers helping with attractions such as placing burlap sacks down on slides and monitoring the jumping pillow to make sure children are following the rules. Most employees at Christmas are handlers helping to shake, bail and secure the trees as they head to their new homes. 

Many have told House they have had a hard time finding a first job because employers are looking for someone with experience or they have requirements that interfere with other commitments like sports, church or school clubs. “We do offer flexibility as far as that for a first job,” House says. “Also, it is just a fun place to be. People are coming to our farm to have a good time with their family. There is an atmosphere of fun and enjoyment. It’s all-around a fun place to be and that translates to a fun place to work.”

Each summer, the farm hosts an informal job fair and lets people who have previously worked there the opportunity to refer friends for employment. “I enjoy that I get to be the first employer for these kids and hopefully give them a good experience as [an employee],” House says. “They can take the experiences that they get at our farm and use them throughout life.”

The challenge is the season is short. “We are not going to appeal to an employee that needs a full-time, year-round position,” she says. “We need seasonal workers. It fits well with high school students looking for part-time work. Also, they have a great attitude. They are good with kids.”