Gig economy benefits focus on convenience, lifestyle offerings

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There aren’t many industry experts who think more about the changing workplace and gig workers than Carolyn Frey, chief people officer at Philz Coffee. About 1,000 of the San Francisco company’s 1,300 employees are barista team members, and most have multiple jobs to make ends meet. Contributing writer Bruce Shutan interviewed Frey and others to report on the benefits for the rising number of gig workers for this month’s feature, “Generation Gig. ”

Shutan. a freelancer for nearly 20 years, was a natural to write the story. A former managing editor at Employee Benefit News, various gig assignments have landed him bylines in more than 100 publications over the years.

“When an editor isn’t breathing down my neck on a writing deadline, it’s difficult to resist the pull of never-ending household chores and errands. And in the absence of water cooler feedback from colleagues, sometimes it feels as though I’m writing in a lonesome vacuum. But those gripes are easily slayed by the pure joy of being your own boss and using any solitude to your advantage,” he told me.

In researching and reporting the latest topic, “it felt like I was part of my own story to some extent.” Although he has written extensively about employee benefits, the gig economy was ironically a new topic for him. How does he manage his own healthcare benefits and retirement savings? And what gig economy benefits are most enticing to him, I wondered. He noted that he buys his own health insurance through Oregon’s state-run health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

At Philz Coffee, those working just 20 hours a week can qualify for benefits, which include a subscription to a direct primary care practice featuring virtual visits and mental health counseling.

“Fortunately,” Shutan says, “I qualify for subsidies to help defer the cost of my monthly premiums, and while I have an IRA for retirement savings that have been difficult to seed in recent years because of a costly divorce and current desire to buy property where I recently moved. If I were lucky enough to be offered any benefits as a gig economy worker, I would put health insurance at the top of my list and firmly believe it’s the most critically important issue in our industry. But I also find the convenience services or lifestyle benefits, as well as financial wellness programs, to be very enticing.”

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