Why Is Gig Work Not More Widely Used as a Side Job?
The Current Status of Gig Work and Associated Issues as Revealed By a Questionnaire Survey on the Effects of the Spread of COVID-19 on Telework-based Work Styles, Lifestyle, and Awareness

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a growing interest in “gig work,” the provision of one-time, short-term services, with employers and workers being matched via the Internet. For workers, gig work allows the utilization of skills and time in a highly flexible mode of working; for the providers of gig work, it allows the use of services that meet their needs at an affordable price. However, at the same time, gig workers do not have the guaranteed rights and benefits that are normal for workers. Their income tends to be unstable, and their safety net is fragile. The gig economy is becoming increasingly important to Japanese society amid ongoing labor shortages and soaring prices. We are at a watershed moment in terms of whether or not this new way of working can be developed in a healthy way.

According to the results of NIRA’s 9th Questionnaire Survey on the Effects of the Spread of COVID-19 on Telework-based Work Styles, Lifestyle, and Awareness, an estimated 2.75 million people in Japan as a whole, or 4% of all workers, have experience of gig work as a side or concurrent job. Younger workers, self-employed workers with no employees, professional and technical workers, managers, and teleworkers are most likely to engage in gig work. The majority of gig work is white-collar work, such as data entry jobs. This is mainly what might be called “backward-looking gig work,” which is most strongly characterized by supplementation of income from a main job using time that is not taken up in that job. This differs from what we will call “forward-looking gig work,” in which workers work flexibly and efficiently use their own ideas and skills without being tied down to an organization; this is a style of work that has long been expected to eventuate. In order to promote “forward-looking gig work,” it will be essential for companies to become more open to their employees having side jobs and to more appropriately evaluate their workers’ skills and guarantee adequate wages, and that the system design of platforms that match workers and work is improved.

*This is a translation of a paper originally published in Japanese in March 2023.

Adjunct Senior Fellow, Nippon Institute for Research Advancement/ Professor, Faculty of Economics, Keio University