The gig economy offers many benefits for all parties involved, including more efficient services, wider talent accessibility, and unparalleled savings. As a result, the gig economy has blossomed all over the globe. But why is the gig economy in Asia not as developed as in other regions?

Make no mistake – there are already millions of gig workers throughout the region. But there are many reasons why the gig economy in Asia hasn’t taken off as it has in other areas of the world.

In Asia, Gig Work Is Still Not Considered a “Real Job” 

Asian society places a large emphasis on predictability and order. Because of this, gig workers are being judged by people who see freelancing as a hobby instead of a legit income source. For example, it’s not uncommon for family and friends to question Asian gig workers about the security of their future and their careers.

It is normal for gig workers to have more free time compared to those who work a 9-to-5 job. But many people falsely think that gig workers are merely lazing around at home and not actually working. And when trying to explain the concept of gig work and flexibility to loved ones, it usually falls on deaf ears.

As such, many Asians do not assess the viability of gig work with complete objectivity. This has hindered the growth of the gig economy in Asia.

Factors that Limit the Gig Economy in Asia

There are many factors that serve to discourage the gig economy in Asia.

Lack of Protection and Benefits

Gig workers are classified as self-employed or independent contractors. They don’t have protection entitlements and security benefits that full-time employees enjoy in a standard work setting.

According to research from the Center of Economic Performance, while workers may like the increased flexibility of gig work, they still prefer a steady job. Asians tend to value job security, such as vacation, sick leave, and paid holidays, more than increased flexibility in their work setup.

In the Philippines, for instance, research suggests that Filipinos prefer job security and work-life balance more than anything else. JobStreet Philippines recently surveyed 15,178 Filipino workers, and their top three priorities were found to be job security, work-life balance, and healthy relationship with their superiors.

Shady Work Practices Are Common in Asia

The number of online and offline platforms in Asia that provide gig work opportunities have increased dramatically. But looking for jobs has become hard due to increased competition.

Because of this, a lot of gig workers look for work outside reputable platforms. The danger in these seemingly great job opportunities is that recruiters don’t always fulfill their responsibilities. For example, around  58 percent of freelancers in Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia have experienced not being paid for completed projects.

The Digital Divide

It’s important to know that despite the benefits of the gig economy, many still can’t access them due to the lack of access to ICT and digital literacy. The lack of access to ICT is particularly prevalent for low-income groups. The other problem involves one’s capability of operating such technologies. According to research, those who are economically and socially disadvantaged, like people with lower education levels, lower incomes, those living in rural communities, and those with disabilities, are more likely to suffer from digital inequalities.

In the gig economy, it’s essential to ensure that everyone has access to high-speed internet and digital financial literacy to maximize its full potential. Many countries in Asia, such as the Philippines, India, China, and Indonesia, still have slow internet speed.

These factors have contributed to the relatively smaller gig economy in Asia compared to other regions.

Gig economy penetration in Asia ad its challenges

Throughout Asia, Family Influences the Career Choices of Youths

Family members are some of the most influential people in the lives of Asians, and they have a direct influence on major career choices. This influence starts in adolescence where individuals start to choose their career path. It is common for Asians to discuss career aspirations with parents who usually offer financial support in their children’s education.

With Asian families, socioeconomic status is one of the major determinants of career choices. This includes power, resources, and social position.

Families usually reflect on the educational and occupational attainments of people and push considerable influence on the work set up of adults. However,  parents who have a higher income are more likely to encourage their kids to explore non-traditional career setups. Further, they promote personal satisfaction instead of financial gains. In contrast, those from lower-income families  face pressure to achieve greater financial and career stability by climbing up the corporate ladder.

Most of the time, family barriers are the first problems faced by Asians who enter the gig economy. This is because people may not completely understand why gig workers choose to break free from the societal employment norms. Or why they want to pursue a non-traditional job setup. Unfortunately, it could take years for people to alter their long-held views.

Asians Value High Management Positions

There are many advantages of traditional jobs that Asians find challenging to let go of. One of the most obvious ones is the luxury of climbing the corporate ladder. Getting a promotion is valued in the Asian community not only because of its obvious financial benefits but also because it helps people gain a sense of accomplishment and pride that the company recognizes their effort and performance.

As Asians spend more years working for a single company, they also develop greater loyalty. This is why it’s so hard to find high-management-level professionals who are willing to pursue gig work and let go of their long-held positions.

Differences in Asian Work Culture

It’s no secret that Asian work culture differs compared to that of America and Europe.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences in Asian and American and European work cultures is how they view their company. In the US and Europe, people love independence and prioritize having a life outside work.

However, Asians treat their co-workers as their second family. They spend time with their co-workers outside work, whether it’s weekend hangouts, getting drinks, or having dinner together.

Because Asians value hierarchy and the bonds they form with colleagues, this can limit opportunities for the gig economy in Asia.

Culture of Long Working Hours

Asian countries are known for their culture of overwork and burnout. For example, in Japan, it’s common to face 60-hour workweeks. A survey in Taipei shows that over 60 percent of full-time employees are concerned about health issues due to their long work hours, while 75 percent have considered quitting their full-time job due to exhaustion. Additionally, in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the grueling work schedules of workers paved the way for an “Anti-996 Campaign” to fight against working from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week.

The culture of long working hours is aggravated by the respect for hierarchy and authority. For example, employees often choose to not leave the office before their supervisors or managers. Unfortunately, some conflate long working hours with output and performance, and some managers frown upon employees who leave early.

Long working hours are already a part of many Asian cultures. In Singapore, for instance, their workers remain the most hardworking people globally in terms of the number of clocked hours. This is despite the statistics reported by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) that show a steady decline in their working hours since 2010. The MOM also reported that the number of gig workers in Singapore in 2019 is 211,000. This number is only 10 percent of the employed workforce. This percentage is lower than that of the US, where over one-third of workers participate in the gig economy.

Aging Population

According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Indonesia has the highest percentage of people working beyond 65, with about 50.6 percent of people aged 65 -69 years old still working. While there are significant differences among countries worldwide, older workers are prevalent in Asian countries. In Japan, 42.8 percent of this age group works, while in South Korea, 45 percent do. Older workers in Asia are much more common than in other regions.

If more young people become gig workers in Singapore, long-term contributions to pension funds and various government programs become reduced. As a result, the gig economy can threaten the benefits and levels of homeownership.

Additionally, Japan is currently facing the problem of a shrinking workforce and an aging population. The economy faces a growing shortage of labor force. As a result, the government allows employees to take on multiple gigs to fill these gaps. However, working outside ta primary job is a new domain for Japanese employees. And this is where the gig economy hasn’t been as efficient in solving labor issues. On top of the aging population, death due to their work culture has been prevalent among full-time employees. Many employees die from suicides, heart attacks, fatigue from long work hours, and stress-related health issues.

More Support for the Gig Economy in Asia

With a fast-growing economy and a large population, Asian countries have a great potential to succeed. This is true both on the continent and on the world stage. There are plenty of opportunities for growth, development, and investment in the gig economy, particularly in terms of improving the digital infrastructure.

With millions of workers now participating in the gig economy, it’s only essential to develop support mechanisms to help this growing sector. The joint forces of government and business can successfully answer the call for significant investment to deal with the problems and demands on these countries and populations. The growth of the gig economy in Asia is just a matter of time.