The gig economy has radically changed how we think of labor in the United States. And though researchers have compiled high-level aggregate numbers to describe the rise in popularity over the last decade of jobs such as freelance contractors, rideshare drivers, and household and personal service workers, much of how we understand their working conditions comes from anecdotal information. We know, for instance, that between 2008 and 2018, the job growth for services to wealthy households outpaced the nation’s overall job growth. But, says Nines co-founder and CEO Jacco de Bruijn, we have had little insight about the employment arrangements for many of these personal service workers, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their livelihoods.
“This is such a crucial segment of the workforce, but because they’re employed in the private industry, there isn’t data available to measure their exact working conditions,” he says. “We’ve heard a lot about the average turnover in the industry, and it’s trending negative.” So Nines conducted its own study to measure this data. “We wanted to hear it right from the service professionals,” he says.
Nines began its Service Professional Study in November of 2020 to collect the missing information on professionals’ experience. What was their experience with compensation, benefits, and their employers’ compliance? The personal impact of the pandemic? Nines began at the onset of the pandemic because so many capable home experts were let go—even as their services are still sorely needed.
“The pandemic has triggered a shift in the industry, but the industry hasn’t caught up with changes it needs to make yet. By studying the experience of the people in this industry, we’re able to figure out how to be an accelerator for the industry,” de Bruijn says.
Nines’ Service Professional Survey is dynamic. So far, close to150 service professionals have taken the survey. As of February 2021, chefs, estate and house managers, and executive and personal assistants have been the highest responders, followed by childcare professionals and housekeepers. More than one-third who have answered the survey have more than 10 years of experience in their positions, and the average time spent in each role is 3 to 5 years.
“As we interpreted the next set of data,” de Bruijn says, “We saw clear evidence for what we’d intuited. Most of our respondents had been negatively affected by Covid-19 in some way; in fact, over one-third had lost their jobs because of it.” Many of those who lost their jobs were ineligible for unemployment benefits because they were hired either as 1099 employees or paid completely off the books. Nearly half of surveyed professionals did not receive health benefits through their most recent positions.
“Significantly, we are finding that the benefits we are offering our Nines service professionals, which are rarely offered in this industry, are in demand,” de Bruijn says. “Those who have so far responded to our survey report that compensation, longevity, benefits, development opportunities, paid time off, supervisor support, and 401K all rank high in importance for them as job features.”
More than half the respondents are interested in affordable training and certification, in line with Nines’ ethos of providing experts with the training they need for continued growth in their positions and mobility in their industries. And although household service professionals’ roles are often structured as gig work, the professional survey showed that longevity was among service professionals’ top priorities—a desire that the Nines membership model was built to support.
“Through our model of a luxury membership service, we’re able to offer all these benefits to our service professionals. We understand that a membership program is an investment. Imagine you’ve hired people in the past and suddenly you have to pay a little extra for benefits or for things you didn’t even know existed, like workers compensation insurance or federal taxes,” he says. “That adds some cost, but we believe, and our members believe, that there are tangible benefits to treating people like the experts they are.”
“Members want to bring people into their homes who feel great about the work they do and how they’re compensated for their time. We want to give people paid time off. Because in the end, burning out will increase turnover and make people unhappy. We’re coming at our research from the perspective of both members and household experts to find what creates long-lasting, happy employment situations.”
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