Gig Economy

Can The Gig Economy Stress-Bust The Holidays?

The Gig Economy’s Happy Holidays

While the holiday season is officially known as the most wonderful time of the year, for the majority of American consumers, it is also the most stressful.

While the holiday season is officially known as the most wonderful time of the year, for the majority of American consumers it can also be the most stressful. The American Psychological Association, Healthline, Popular Science and the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (yes, we were surprised by that last one, too, but they did commission a legitimate study on the topic) all agree that holiday stress is real, is widely experienced – particularly by women – and has a notable effect on human health and happiness during the festive season.

It even has a name: festive stress.

It begins to ramp up from mild to severe between December 18 and December 25, when it peaks at 2:05 p.m.

“The holiday season can be completely wonderful and magical — but the hustle and bustle can be draining. Unfortunately, relying on caffeine and too many unhealthy treats ultimately creates an energy lull,” said Christy Brissette, RD, spokesperson for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Brissette, unsurprisingly, goes on to recommend eating more blueberries as one potential way to beat back festive stress.

But in a world where consumers are faced with several weeks of shopping, cleaning, wrapping, cooking, more cleaning, entertaining and also sharing tidings of comfort and joy – well, we’re just not sure blueberries are up to the job of beating back festive stress on their own.

Luckily, in the era of the gig economy, help is a digital marketplace and a click away.

And, occasionally, it’s even wearing an elf costume.

Holiday Gigging: Big, Small and Strange

A brief and informal study of PYMNTS team members revealed that 100 percent of people like unwrapping presents, and 0 percent of people want to be tasked with wrapping them. Perhaps that’s why gift wrapping is the first task seen on TaskRabbit’s holiday list of services.

Taskers can also set up Christmas lights, cook a holiday meal or set up for an event. The site also notes that its festive services extend beyond Christmas Day.

“Everyone dreads the end of the holiday season; the fun and merriment is over, and now you have to tackle the burdensome aftermath that truly marks the holidays coming to an end. Let TaskRabbit handle those tasks for you and escape the post-holiday scaries!” the platform notes on its site.

Post-holiday services include toy assembly, deconstructing and reboxing the lights and even disposing of Christmas trees.

But if TaskRabbit feels too impersonal – or if one is looking to delegate a host of Christmas services to a crew of dedicated professionals – there are other options … provided one lives in New York, where Christmas can be on-demand from a variety of purveyors.

The team at Rent-a-Christmas offers a range of services, from a $185 lighted wreath (with in-home installation) to a $15,000 home decoration package that will cover every square inch of one’s home with tinsel and lights. The most popular consumer package, according to Co-founder Kristen Parness, is the “Feels Like Home” package for $500, which includes a 6.5-foot artificial tree, lights, tree skirt, tinsel, ornaments and star, along with a team of elves to set it up.

And yes, the “elves” who come to set up Christmas in customers’ homes are in costume – and they sing Christmas carols while they do it.

“You have no idea the joy you’re gonna bring,” Sarah, one of the firm’s elves, told Vox.

And Rent-a-Christmas is far from the only game in town. House of Holiday in Queens and The Christmas Decorators on Staten Island both offer similar services.

Christmas Decorators Founder Vincent Nicastro noted that his business started out as a Christmas gig on weekends and after school when he was a sophomore in high school, to raise money for Christmas gifts. Now, he works 12-hour days throughout the holiday season.

“It’s 40 days of torture,” he noted in an interview.

But lucrative, enjoyable torture.

“I do enjoy it,” Nicastro said. “A lot of landscapers and companies come and go. We always see 20 percent growth every year.”

And if gift wrapping, hanging lights and singing Christmas carols in costume sound like dull tasks, we should note these are just the holiday season’s most commonly requested gigs.

This is also the rare time of year when the gig economy also gets to offer up some truly unique short-term prospects.

For example, the gig worker with something really different in mind could always carve ice castles in New Hampshire for the holiday season.

And the award for the most interesting – and unusual – piece of seasonal work probably goes to Rich Varano, a professional sand artist (which is a job that actually exists) who was hired to sculpt the nativity scene for St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican out of 270 tons of sand. The finished work will be 18 feet high by 52 feet wide.

“What separates us professionals and the average person playing on the beach is that we understand how to make sand stick together well,” the white-bearded Varano said to Reuters. He explained that special river sand had to be used for the project, as regular beach sand is unsuitable to create art at this scale.

Some gigs are more specialized than others.

But while Varano and team may have the most interesting gig of the holiday season in 2018, the big gig – and generally the most desirable temporary work of the season – is arguably the most important job of Christmas.

Playing Santa Claus.

The Santa Side Hustle

At shopping malls, brunches and countless holiday season events, Santa Claus is a fixture. What most people probably don’t know is that there is a division of the Santas of the world – between regular workmen Santas and a tier of elite “premier Santas” who, according to reports, earn tens of thousands of dollars annually.

What separates a premier Santa from a regular Santa?  It’s hard to quantify.

“There’s two kinds of Santas: There are professional Santas and there are guys in red suits. And the difference for me is there are those who want to better themselves and learn and master the trade, and there are the others,” Santa Rick, the official Santa for both the Atlanta Falcons and Braves, told Vox.

Rick has been mastering his trade since he was 16, but moved into professional-level Santa-ing eight years ago. He now runs his own training academy for Santas who want to be elite: Northern Lights Santa Academy.

“Many Santas, if not most, will agree with me: You don’t choose [becoming] Santa. Santa chooses you,” he said.

And Rick is not the only elite Santa training others to do the job. Santa Ed has been working as a professional Santa for 15 years, and got his start by attending an open call for a paid gig as a mall Santa in Los Angeles. Since 2013, he has run the Santa Claus Conservatory, an online training program for more than 2,300 aspiring premier Santas worldwide. Subjects of specialty include beard whitening and care, as well as search engine optimization.

And while top-tier Santas can command hundreds of dollars an hour for an appearance, both Santas Ed and Rick noted that those who go into the gig for the money will likely be disappointed. Though Santas take in, on average, about $7,000 a year, (with really successful Santas bringing in about $25,000), the cost of being Santa is high. Between wardrobe needs (a high-quality Santa suit runs around $1,200), transportation costs and various cosmetic needs, most Santas are lucky to break even during a season.

But most Santas, as it turns out, aren’t really in it for the money.

“A lot of guys do it for no pay,” said Santa Ed. “The guys who do it for pay, some of them really need and want the money, and it changes their lifestyle to make an extra $10,000 to $20,000 a year. But a lot of them are just like, ‘I just love being Santa! I can’t wait till Christmas comes again.’”

The Gig Economy’s Happy New Year?

Given the realities of festive stress, and the particular needs of the season, the fact that the holidays are a happy time for the gig economy isn’t all that surprising.

But the outlook for the new year in the gig economy is looking less certain – particularly in light of a study from the JPMorgan Chase Institute that indicated the average monthly pay for gig workers in the transportation sector declined 53 percent from the previous year, to $783 in 2017.

“Regardless of whether the drop in earnings was caused by a fall in wages or hours or both, it indicates that driving has become less and less likely to replace a full-time job over the past five years, as more drivers have joined the market,” the study reads.

The drop-off was seen most sharply in transportation, but was also noted in other segments, according to Chase. Average monthly earnings for gig work related to “selling” declined 9.4 percent year over year in 2017 to $608, while other non-transport-related gigs declined 1.9 percent to $741.

It wasn’t all bad news, though: Gig work related to leasing experienced a 69 percent year-over-year increase in monthly earnings in 2017 to $1,736.

And while the report set off alarm bells among some that the gig economy is perhaps set to contract as the laws of supply and demand are evening out, the PYMNTS Gig Economy Index indicates that the picture is a bit more complex. Even if workers aren’t abandoning full-time work for the gig economy, it is clear that a lot of workers are at least dabbling in it. According to the Index, nearly 40 percent of the American workforce now makes at least 40 percent of their income via gig work.

What’s more, a growing majority of full-time gig workers (75.7 percent) say they would not leave freelance work behind for a full-time job – particularly as they are able to attach more perks of gig employment, such as flexibility, health benefits, supplemental incomes and creative fulfillment. The Index also found that 85 percent of gig workers would work more often if they could be paid faster.

And that call for faster payments is being heard throughout the gig economy – most recently by Postmates, which is partnering with Visa to offer its 200,000 delivery workers instant access to their wages for a nominal fee.

Which means what’s next for the gig economy – after the holiday rush dies down – remains very much up in the air going into 2019.

We’ll keep you posted as it unfolds.

Until then, we recommend having some blueberries. We hear they can help people relax away their holiday stress. We bet TaskRabbit can even send a gig worker to bring you some.

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