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Coaches in the Gig Economy

There are 3 main types of employment for a coach:

  • Internal coaches, employed by a company
  • Permanently employed coaches, hired by a coaching provider company
  • Giggers, all the rest of us

We often think of workers in the gig economy as Uber drivers. But If you work on your own, working with one or multiple companies or clients, with no guarantee of work and you manage your own sources of income and career - you are a gigger.

Pros and Cons

The benefits of gigging can include:

  • Income security - if you spread across multiple clients
  • Higher incomes - if you can negotiate
  • Autonomy to choose assignments that match strengths and interests
  • Task diversity
  • Opportunity to choose meaningful work
  • Spatial and temporal flexibility
  • Work life balance
  • Improved diversity for workers e.g. Stay-at-home parents, older people, students, and people with disabilities

However, the dark side of gigging can be isolation and uncertainty. This can include:

  • Social isolation - you are on your own
  • Unreliability of work, employment and income insecurity
  • Unsteady workloads and pay schedules and lack of benefits
  • Overwork and workload issues - you can’t say “no”, no one to off load work onto

In addition, as an associate in larger organisations:

  • Opacity - What is the real contract, the real brief?
  • Intermediation - managing relationships through others

Identity

This intermediation has been so extreme at times in my own coaching experience that there have been 8 layers of contacts between me (the coach) and the coacheee. By my reckoning this creates at least 36 convoluted relationships. This raises a set of issues like “who am I” in this relationship and “who am I working for”? The complexity only increases when you work for multiple coaching firms, coaching into multiple companies, who also use multiple and probably a different range of coaches and suppliers.

It’s vital to be clear where your boundaries and responsibilities lie and to contract clearly. There are new issues of identity to clarify: What are the relationships, who owns the relationship, and how do I connect with clients? Who am I in relationship to others in my coaching systems? This overlaps with the business questions: Who am I representing, who am I working for and what are the rules about business generation? I surveyed 12 coaching firms at the end of last year. 100% of firms required the coach represent themselves as being “from” the coaching organization but only 17% required the coach to be exclusive.

There are also issues about how I develop and grow as a coach. As giggers, we don’t have employers to manage our development. So, we should all be managing our development. All the coaching firms I surveyed expected coach self-development, 75% required evidence of ongoing coaching development and 58% required ongoing coaching supervision.

Finally, there are issues of connectedness and security. As coaches, we sometimes think we shouldn’t feel alone because we are working with people all the time but coachees and clients are not our friends or peers. As individual coaches we still need to feel part of a tribe or community. This is one reason why I’m involved with ICF and I’m a member of a peer supervision group. While gig working provides us with a high degree of freedom, we also need to feel safe in our employment. For gig workers, even with a history of success,

“the price of such freedom is a precariousness that seems not to subside over time.” (Petriglieri, Ashford & Wrzesniewski, 2018)

Skills for coaches in the gig economy

If you are gigging you need to manage and develop yourself on a range of dimensions:

Skills as a sole gigger:

  • Self-development - as a coach in your coaching skills and practice
  • Self-management - time, identity (including contracting), and health
  • Social-management - as a connected individual in tribe and community
  • Business development

Plus there are new skills for gigging as an associate of other coaching firms:

  • Relationship management
  • Networking
  • Reputation management
  • Identity and boundary definition
  • A ton of self-discipline.

As coaches our focus is often on our coachees. But our main and best tool in coaching is ourselves. Especially as giggers, we need to make sure we manage and maintain ourselves on as professionals and as people.

Reference

Thriving in the Gig Economy: How successful freelancers manage the uncertainty by Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan Ashford, and Amy Wrzesniewski, HBR March-April 2018, REPRINT R1802M.


Tim Sprague is President of ICF Australasia NSW Branch. He is a registered psychologist and post-graduate trained coach. He specialises in leadership and developmental coaching and is also trained as a coach supervisor through the Oxford-Brookes program. Tim can be reached via https://thecoachingpractice.com.au/ or email tim.sprague@outlook.com.au


The blogs demonstrate the wide and wonderful voices of the ICF Australasia community and express individual perspectives on coaching and not the necessarily views of the International Coach Federation (ICF).
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