Bridging the Gap: How Gig Work Can Help Combat the Loneliness Epidemic

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It probably won’t come as a surprise that the gig economy has exploded in recent years, thanks in large part to the pandemic. Gig work offers a level of flexibility that traditional jobs often lack, making it an attractive option for many people. Caregivers, in particular, have been drawn to this flexibility as it allows them to continue caring for those who rely on them while still being able to bring in money. Many of our washrs are caregivers looking to earn extra income doing something they are already pros at. This flexibility also extends to other groups, such as students, retirees, people with disabilities, and those looking to supplement their income. Gig work is also an excellent way for people to make a little extra money for unexpected expenses, birthdays/holidays, or maybe even a vacation! 

Another less positive trend on the rise in America is loneliness. Loneliness has become more and more widespread in recent years, with studies showing that it can have serious negative effects on both physical and mental health. In 2023, loneliness was classified as an epidemic by the United States Surgeon General, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the severity of the issue to the forefront. The pandemic, with its lockdowns and social distancing measures, highlighted the importance of social connection and the detrimental effects of isolation.

At first glance, you might think that gig work could contribute to the loneliness epidemic. After all, gig workers often work alone and may not have the same level of social interaction as those in traditional office settings. However, gig work could actually be part of the solution to the loneliness epidemic facing Americans. Gig work offers a unique opportunity for individuals to connect with others in their community, whether it’s through interacting with customers, collaborating with other gig workers, or simply being out and about in the community. This level of engagement can help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness, ultimately leading to a more connected and vibrant society. Let’s talk about it.

Loneliness in America

Social connection is a fundamental human need, just like the need to eat and drink water. The US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, equates the scale of the loneliness epidemic to that of obesity and opioid epidemics. Loneliness reached a new high during and after the COVID-19 pandemic but was actually a massive issue in this country long before people started talking about it. The statistics on loneliness in America are shocking. Only 54% of Americans polled by Pew Research Center said they feel connected to their community. Of the 24 countries surveyed, this puts us in second to last place, with only South Korea reporting less.

Being lonely doesn’t just make your weekend less fun; it actually directly impacts your health. The mortality impact of loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day (that’s nearly a pack a day). This means your risk of dying prematurely is increased equally from loneliness and smoking almost an entire pack of cigarettes every day. On top of that, you’re also 29% more likely to have heart disease and 32% more likely to have a stroke, and we aren’t even to the impact on your emotional health yet! Loneliness also has a direct, negative impact on your mental health. People who experience loneliness are more likely to suffer from severe anxiety, depression, other stress symptoms, and even suicidal ideation. People who experience chronic loneliness are more likely to develop mental health disorders, and it even lowers their immune system’s ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. It’s also linked with reduced academic and work performance. People who consistently feel lonely are more likely to develop a drug or alcohol addiction.

Alright, alright, we get it. Being lonely is terrible for your mental and physical health. So what can we do about it? Addressing the issue of loneliness requires a multi-faceted approach. Interventions in all different communities, changes in policy, and more concentrated efforts to promote social connection will be needed. People will feel more connected to the community when they are more involved, and gig work is a powerful way to make that happen. 

Gig Workers and Community Engagement

Gig workers have a unique vantage point into the needs of the community. Depending on their work, they’re typically more hands-on in their town or neighborhood. Unlike traditional jobs, where you’re stuck in a single location or industry, gig workers see people from diverse communities and backgrounds.  Rideshare drivers can pick up people from everywhere within their community (or the world!). Our washrs are doing laundry for a wide variety of people in their area. The list goes on, but you get the idea. Gig workers aren’t seeing the same handful of people day in and day out. This makes them much more cognizant of their community as a whole. They see and hear the things people struggle with, the things they love, or what they’re passionate about. This insight into people’s lives provides an opportunity for more understanding and compassion. 

As gig workers are brought into people’s everyday lives, they’re able to have a better understanding of community dynamics. Being on the front lines of how people in your community live life can lead to increased empathy. This empathy, in addition to a deeper understanding of their community, can act as a catalyst to being more engaged with those around you. The end of this domino effect means a greater sense of belonging in their community. In addition, people could develop more interest in social issues and community outreach to address the problems they see. As gig workers have the flexibility to engage with their community, the gig economy can empower people to make a positive impact in their neighborhood and even society at large. 

Cities across the country are recognizing the potential of gig work platforms to address local needs and empower workers. In response, some cities have started to develop their own unique platforms. These platforms offer a diverse range of job opportunities, spanning from child care, cleaning, city event planning, medical support staff, and seasonal recreation employment needs. By creating these platforms, cities are not only providing valuable services to their communities but also creating new economic opportunities for residents. Workers can find flexible, on-demand work that fits their schedule, allowing them to balance their professional and personal lives more effectively. Residents who don’t participate as gig workers benefit from access to convenient and affordable services that are tailored to their specific needs and preferences. Of course, in many cases cities don’t need to provide this platform. hampr’s app connects our incredible washrs to people in the community who need their services. This innovative approach demonstrates how local governments can use technology to improve community services, support local businesses, and foster a more inclusive and resilient economy.

Engaging Gig Workers in the Workplace

A common myth about gig workers is that they’re not as easily engaged at work. Some companies are even resistant to hiring gig workers for projects because they don’t have faith in their ability to do what is needed. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Even though some gig workers (also called freelancers or independent contractors) are only hired for short-term projects, they can still be engaged like full-time employees. In fact, research shows gig workers can be just as engaged as full-time workers. In some cases, gig workers and part-time workers are actually more easily engaged. So, why does that matter?

Keeping employees engaged is more beneficial than you might think. People who are engaged in their work are far more likely to stay happy, motivated, and productive. High levels of engagement require a certain amount of trust between a company and its employees. Without getting too far off topic here, companies can maintain trust with their employees by providing learning opportunities, feeling like their contributions matter, and feeling connected to their co-workers. This benefits both the company and the employee at every level. Businesses that do this successfully are called “high-trust companies.” Employees at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout.

All that goes to say is that people who work at companies where they feel valued are happier. Probably not shocking information, right? However, the staggering impact is undoubtedly worth mentioning. Gig workers are easier to engage than their full-time counterparts in most situations. Not all gig workers, such as rideshare or delivery drivers, are able to engage directly with the company. Gig workers are generally aware they’re at a greater risk for social isolation and go out of their way to prevent that from happening. If they aren’t engaging directly with the companies that hire them, they are creating their own communities or building a support system of friends and family to lean on. Regardless of how it’s done, gig workers are easier to engage with overall. Plus, they are generally more aware of their community and their own risks of loneliness. Either way, this is taking the unique position of gig workers to combat the loneliness epidemic further. 

Building Community Among Gig Workers

A benefit (maybe less of a benefit, depending on the day) of working in a traditional office environment is access to co-workers. When you step into someone’s office to ask them a question or chit-chat in the break room, it contributes to a sense of community and belonging. You’ll also be able to get insights from someone with more experience or talk through issues with someone that has a similar skillset to you. Gig workers can’t just pop their heads around a corner to get feedback on a task or process. Developing a network and support system as a gig worker isn’t quite that straightforward. There are pros and cons to this. One is that you don’t have to chit-chat with co-workers when you’d rather be doing literally anything else. However, lacking a professional network can make it difficult to progress in your career and develop skills.

To remedy this, gig workers have turned to the internet. Some platforms that hire gig workers have forums where people can connect. Where those are lacking, gig workers can find communities across platforms such as Reddit, Facebook, Discord, etc. There are even companies solely focused on creating a community for gig workers through different software. The unique challenges that come with gig work can lead to people feeling isolated in their work. Connecting and talking to people who are going through the same things helps alleviate that. Providing a space for people to share advice, give support, and build relationships can help people feel less alone. 

Gig workers can also build local networks based on the type of work they do or their location. Meetups, workshops, and social events all provide opportunities for face-to-face interactions. These gatherings not only provide socialization but also give opportunities for people to collaborate on projects, share resources, and support each other in their professional endeavors. These can be organized on the platforms mentioned earlier or might even be hosted by the company that hires the workers. These events help foster a sense of community and strengthen the bond between gig workers. Building a community among gig workers is essential for their health and well-being, as well as their success in the gig economy. By creating and supporting spaces dedicated to helping gig workers connect, a more positive and fulfilling work experience for all involved will follow. 

Conclusion

The gig economy has emerged as a powerful force for good in America, offering so many opportunities to alleviate the loneliness epidemic. As gig work continues to rise in popularity, people have a unique opportunity to not only earn a living but also to improve community engagement and foster a sense of togetherness. hampr and other similar companies are already making this dream a reality. Companies and individuals alike can play an important role in combating the loneliness epidemic by actively creating a sense of belonging among gig workers. This entails businesses working to engage their gig workers as they do their traditional employees, providing them with support and resources to succeed in their roles. For example, our new washrs get access to a dedicated support team they can live chat with at any time, an online community of experienced washrs around the country, and all the educational resources they’ll need. Moreover, gig workers can also take the initiative to create a support system around them, using online forums, social media groups, and networking events to connect with others in similar situations.

The effects of loneliness extend far beyond individual well-being, impacting the fabric of society as a whole. Loneliness has a startling impact on physical health, increasing the risk of premature death, heart disease, and stroke and even lowering the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. Loneliness also has a significant impact on mental health, potentially leading to severe anxiety, depression, and other stress symptoms. It also negatively impacts academic and work performance, contributing to a less productive and engaged workforce. By taking advantage of the flexibility and autonomy of gig work, people can make meaningful contributions to their communities, bridging the gap between social isolation and community engagement. This is particularly helpful when they’re able to pick up gig work doing something they’re already familiar with, like our washrs. 

As gig workers become more involved in the daily lives of people in their communities, they gain a deeper understanding and empathy for the challenges faced by those around them. This insight can lead to increased community engagement and interest in addressing social issues. Policymakers, businesses, and individuals can all work together to create an environment that supports and nurtures genuine human connection. Here at hampr, we truly believe that through the power of gig work, we can build stronger, more connected communities where everyone feels supported, valued, and connected. Together, hampr is working to make the loneliness epidemic a thing of the past. 

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