man teaching what a gig is to gig workers

In the last couple of years, the word “gig” has been thrown around a lot. It’s as if suddenly the term has become the word of the day, and you’re unsure what it means. Or why should you care? Perhaps, you’re even wondering what is a gig? Or what’s the difference between a job and a gig? You’re not alone. Lots of people have these questions, especially those who are thinking about jumping into the gig platform. Don’t worry, we are going to break the lingo down, and when someone utters the word “gig,” you’ll be an expert.

What is a gig?

In the past, when you heard the word “gig,” you may have thought of a musician playing at a wedding or bar mitzvah. The utterance had an entertainment connection. If you look the word up in an English dictionary, one definition is a rowboat designed for speed. You’ll even find “gig” used as a verb to mean to work with other musicians. Another, more modern definition of a gig, is a job for a specific project or specified time.

Where does gig come from?

The word origin in many dictionaries is unknown, but linguists estimate that gig first appeared in the English language in the 15th century to mean something that spins. Related word incarnations included playing a joke or dance.

In the 1920s, gig became a slang term used by jazz musicians to express a musician’s date or engagement. As in the example sentence, “I’m playing a gig tonight,”  or “I participated in a gig last night.” Since playing a gig in American English means you’re getting paid, it’s natural for the word to morph into a generalized term for a “paying job.”

What’s the modern-day use?

Now, for most people (despite the unknown origin), the term gig goes beyond entertainment and symbolizes working in the gig economy. As a gig worker, you’re an independent contractor who takes on one-off jobs or temporary work in a variety of fields.

Gig jobs run the gamut from freelance writers to virtual assistants. You can still be a musician playing an event, but a gig could be a course developer working on a specific project for a nonprofit organization. Or an Uber driver who is making extra cash on the weekends. Now, even restaurants are starting to rely on gig platforms or app-based platforms to book talent. All of which have developed into the gig economy or the global gig economy, depending on the job.

Job vs. Gig — What’s the difference?

While you can use the words job and gig interchangeably, there are some key differences when understanding the gig economy.

Different employee status

When you have a traditional job, it usually means you’re a full-time employee for a company or organization. Each week you clock in 40 hours or more and receive a steady paycheck. The job usually includes benefits, such as health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid time off.

As part of your employment, your employer pays your payroll taxes for you. Payroll taxes are the amounts you pay to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) based on wages, salaries, and tips. Independent workers or gig workers pay their payroll taxes to the IRS. If individuals miss payments, the bill comes when you file taxes.

Different career paths

A regular job usually means you have the skills and experience that match the job description. While this is true for a gig as well, you may only need to sign up on a gig platform, such as DoorDash, Fiverr, Gigster, or ShiftPixy. In some cases, increasing your skills by taking classes or networking will help you, but a lot of online job platforms don’t require you to fit job requirements exactly.

Varied Working hours

Typical working hours are 8-5 with lunch for a job. When you’re a gig worker, your duties may start at any time of the week. Another caveat is that you don’t have to work full time. Completing a couple of gigs week or month may encompass your side hustle to flesh out your savings account or pay for a holiday. Your side hustle may be different from your day job.

Some jobs may not even offer overtime or expect you to buckle down and put in the hours without extra pay. A gig means that you get paid for the service or time you put into the project. In some cases, you may even get paid immediately.

Work from anywhere

Most traditional jobs have a set location or office to commute to five days a week. A gig means that you can either work from home, a coffee shop or on-site. If all your gigs happen virtually, you can be on a beach somewhere while pecking at your keyboard. If your partner gets a job in another state, you can move too. Not being set to a fixed location gives you flexibility.

Stability vs. Freedom

When you have guaranteed monthly income through your job, it gives you a lot of stability. On the other hand, you may lack the freedom and flexibility of a gig job. Depending on your personality and lifestyle choices, one may be more attractive than the other. A gig means that once you have completed the task, you’re free to, well, take another gig. A job, on the other hand, requires a long-term commitment.

Creation of community

When you’re in school, you create a community with your classmates. When you’re an adult, one of the most critical associations in your life comes from your job.

The relationships between workers at any organization can determine how satisfied you are with your employment.  If you’re in the gig labor force, it may be hard to develop relationships with peers or mentors. Much of the work you do may happen in isolation or with different people most of the time.

Yet you can connect online in chat rooms or Facebook groups. Many gig workers have healthy virtual lives and have more time to spend with friends and family in-person than they did when fully employed by one organization.

Choosing between a job or a gig is a personal choice. Sometimes you’re thrust into a new career path, or perhaps you’re ready to be your own boss. In either case, you now have a clear understanding of a job or a gig. So when someone tosses the terms around, you’ll be sure to impress them with your knowledge.