Introducing the Gen Z Gig Workforce

Younger employees are heading into freelance or gig work—whether that’s their first choice or not.

Workers in Generation Z are increasingly considering gig work, but some are concerned about its stability.

A report by Kronos Incorporated, a workforce management and human capital management cloud provider, found that while 53% of Gen Z respondents expressed interest in working for themselves, 47% said they were unwilling to sacrifice the stability of a traditional “9 to 5 job” and 46% said they would rather have the stable income that comes with a salary job than flexible hours.

However, industry experts say that, despite these fears, more employees in this younger workforce are making the leap to gig work due to concerns about COVID-19. The risk of returning to an office setting amid the pandemic has made workers want to avoid traditional work environments, and high unemployment numbers have forced some to consider gig work instead, says Brian Pirri, partner at New England Investment and Retirement Group.

“We’ve definitely started and will continue to see that shift,” he explains. “Fewer people today want to go into a workplace in an office setting, and you see more people working remote or doing contract, gig work.”

As a result, these workers are leaving their traditional, employer-sponsored 401(k) plans and, instead, enrolling in accounts such as a SIMPLE [savings incentive match plan for employees] plans, simplified employee pensions (SEPs) or Roth individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

Some gig workers might eventually think about starting their own business. For these workers, Robert Conzo, Certified Financial Planner (CFP), CEO and managing director at The Wealth Alliance, recommends adding a traditional 401(k) profit sharing safe harbor for its flexibility. “You are not handcuffed to the 25 mutual funds that are offered in big corporations,” he adds. “You can have more flexibility, save more pre-tax, have more access, open architecture, etc. As an independent contractor, the same plans that I had access to in the big corporate world are available to me as an individual.”

Still, for workers who are just working for themselves and serving as freelancers, consultants or gig economy workers, contributing to an IRA is their only option. “It requires the ability, fortitude and discipline to save on your own,” says Pirri. “When the plan is there and it’s on you to make that contribution, it’s tougher to stick to that plan.”

Without a traditional 401(k) plan, these workers miss out on key features and benefits that could help them increase their retirement savings, including financial advice. While companies such as Vanguard are targeting their services at Millennial and Gen Z workers with the addition of Vanguard Digital Advisor, Pirri says New England Investment and Retirement Group is currently speaking with its clients’ children on financial and retirement planing, who are now adults as they enter the workforce.

Micah DiSalvo, chief revenue officer at American Trust, notes that more financial advisers are tailoring their advice to the Millennial and Gen Z workforces, especially when it comes to retirement savings. “If you get someone who is 25 years old, you can make a real impact on retirement,” he says. “We’re seeing advisers trying to connect on their terms, whether that’s through technology, social media, education, motivation, it’s all centered around how advisers can connect and transcend that message to Gen Z.”

Conzo advises gig workers to speak to advisers instead of determining their financial futures through an online or mobile assessment. Digital investment advice services such as robo-advisers are popular, but connecting with a financial expert with years of experience can save these workers money, he says. “The benefit of talking to a professional with many years of experience is that they’ve seen the pitfalls of making the wrong decision,” Conzo argues. “That type of experience blends itself into something that is very hard to acquire from a virtual medium.”

Instead, Conzo recommends using virtual assistance tools as resources and not guidance. It would be a mistake if workers only use digital tools to make their decisions, he adds.

“Advice is much broader and expanding, and it comes from a place where a CFP sees a lot of the problems in coupling the wrong plan with a person,” he concludes. “There’s no substitute for a person with many years of experience in a specialty area like financial planning.”