Have you ever heard of the “gig economy”? Many of the people you see around you every day are gig workers. Rideshare drivers, food delivery workers, house cleaners, and more work “gig to gig,” the number of gig workers is growing daily.
Reports show more than a quarter of the U.S. workforce participates in gig work to some extent. As we move into a world in which more and more people find work in nontraditional settings, an important question needs to be asked: How does this type of work affect people’s mental health? Could gig work be causing a hidden mental health crisis?
What is gig work?
According to the Gig Economy Data Hub, gig work consists of any job arrangement that is temporary or project-based. Gig workers aren’t employed continuously by any employer – they work from gig to gig. Some examples of gig work are freelance, self-employment, temp agency, and subcontracted work. Today, gig workers often use online platforms to find work.
Some of these workers may work gigs on the side (in addition to traditional full- or part-time employment), while others may rely on gig work for their primary income. Some people choose to be gig workers for the flexibility, while others may be forced into it.
Mental health effects of gig work
Research shows that gig work can have both benefits and disadvantages for mental health. In one major study, gig workers ranked lower in mental health and life satisfaction than traditionally employed people.
Here are some of the main ways gig work can be harmful to your mental health, mainly if you’re not doing so by choice.
One of gig work’s most potentially harmful impacts is the need for more community. When you’re an employee working for one company, you have co-workers – colleagues with whom you share your time, in-person or remotely. It would even be fair to say work is where many of us meet friends as adults.
When you’re a gig worker, you don’t have that same access to a built-in circle of acquaintances and friends. You work alone – entirely alone. If you don’t already have a solid social support network outside of your job, then this might become very lonely. One research study found gig workers scored higher on loneliness measures, which explained worse mental health and life satisfaction.
Loneliness has also been linked to many mental health consequences, including higher rates of depression and lower resilience against stressful events.
Another factor that can impact gig workers’ mental health is financial instability. As an employee, you earn a paycheck – which tends to be a predictable amount of money that hits your bank account on a predictable day. Gig workers don’t have this same pay security.
Some gig workers and freelancers make a healthy income, which is often unpredictable. Other gig workers may need help to meet their living costs.
Either way, the financial instability of gig work can be a source of stress for many. Financial worries are one of the top causes of stress and anxiety, and this stress can also put you at higher risk for depression.
Anxiety and burnout
Because of many factors, gig workers may also work more hours than full- or part-time employees. Because income is so unstable, many gig workers find it difficult to say “no” to work when it does come along. On top of that, things like healthcare may be more expensive for gig workers due to a lack of employee benefits – so they may have a higher cost of living.
This all means long hours for gig workers, which can lead to stress, anxiety, fatigue, and burnout. Gig workers might need more time in their days to practice proper self-care. For example, they may be working so many hours they can’t get adequate sleep.
Lack of healthcare
One of the most significant impacts of gig work on mental health is specific to the United States healthcare system. In America, healthcare benefits are usually tied to full-time employment. This means that many gig workers are left without affordable and adequate access to healthcare services, which can negatively affect their mental health.
If you don’t have health insurance, then you may be less likely to access mental health services, even when you need them. Not only that, but having unmanaged health conditions can also contribute to depression and anxiety.
Lack of structure
Lastly, a lack of daily structure can negatively affect some people. When you’re traditionally employed, your day is typically structured for you. You may be told where to go and when. This structure can be a source of stress for some people, while others may falter without it.
The benefits of gig work
Despite these research findings, many gig workers say they enjoy gig work much more than they like being in traditional work settings. Some studies have found independent workers experience a boost to their mental health due to their unique situation.
Some of the mental health and lifestyle benefits of gig work include:
- Autonomy: Being able to choose when and how to work can lead to greater happiness
- Schedule flexibility: As long as they plan for it financially, gig workers can take time off when needed without requiring permission from a supervisor
- Reduced stress: Some people find not having to report to one specific workplace reduces their stress levels
- Work from home: Gig workers often don’t need to go into an office, which can reduce commute time, help avoid office politics, and more
- Boost in self-esteem: Gig work can allow a person to take ownership of their work life, which can lead to a boost in self-esteem
How to take care of your mental health as a gig worker
Whether you choose gig work for flexibility or have been forced into gig work to make ends meet, taking care of your mental health is essential. Gig work doesn’t have to harm mental health, and there are ways to thrive in these work settings.
Set aside resources for your health
This is especially important for gig workers: Set aside monthly resources for your health. This could mean setting aside a portion of your income to pay an individual health insurance premium, starting a savings account for health emergencies, or considering health services (like therapy sessions or a gym membership) in your monthly budget.
This is difficult to do when not earning enough to meet living expenses. But saving resources specifically for your health, as much as you can, can make it easier to get through mental health issues in the future.
Consider balancing gig work with a part-time job
Some disadvantages of gig work can be avoided by balancing gig work with another, more traditional job. If you are employed part-time or full-time somewhere else, you can enjoy the benefits of gig work without other negative aspects of mental health. For example, you can get health insurance or predictable income through another employer.
Loneliness is one of the most significant ways that gig work can negatively affect your mental health. To combat this, cultivate community.
Some gig workers choose to find a work-related community. For example, a freelancer might rent a coworking desk or join a networking group. But your social network doesn’t need to be filled with work colleagues to have mental health benefits. You can build a network based on shared interests, hobbies, and more.
The important thing is to avoid spending too much time alone and to develop deep interpersonal relationships you can count on when things get rough.
Take advantage of the benefits
There are many disadvantages to gig work, but there are benefits. Remember to take advantage of the benefits of gig work when you can. For example, you could work in the evenings rather than the mornings or experiment with finding gigs in different cities. Taking advantage of the benefits of gig work can make it easier to cope with its stresses.
Build strong work/life boundaries
Lastly, many gig workers feel they need to be working all the time. Since gig workers have no set “office hours” dictated by an employer, they can work when they want. But this freedom often translates into poor work-life balance and weak boundaries. This could especially be true if you’re under financial strain.
Working and earning as much as possible is tempting for a gig worker. But there comes a certain point when you are too exhausted to be productive. Figure out ways to build some sort of work/life balance and protect your personal time.
If gig work has been so stressful your mental health has been impacted, then treatment could help.
The Center • A Place of HOPE uses a unique Whole Person Care approach to mental health treatment. This means we consider every aspect of your well-being – mental, physical, spiritual, social, and financial. If your financial or work situation has impacted your mental health, we want to know about it. We can help you heal on every level to emerge as your best and most complete self.
Give us a call for more information on admissions and financing options.
1 – https://www.gigeconomydata.org/basics/what-gig-worker
2 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9743407/
3 – https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/12/12/e066389
4 – https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2019/07/15/how-the-gig-economy-can-boost-the-mental-health-of-workers/?sh=3ac9305966b9