Working when you want and being your own boss may seem like a dream for many people, but an academic study reveals that those who do it full-time often get stuck in a trap, and their chance of moving to "regular" employment is slim.

A University of Auckland study, which analysed data from 10,000 French people, from finishing education in 1998, through employment up to 2008, found those who started out in "gig economy" jobs had a low chance of later switching to a nine-to-five-style job.

The gig economy is often defined as being made up of workers who participate in a range of jobs with multiple employers at the same time, or do short spells of contract work, moving from company to company.

Working that way is long-established in areas such as writing and design, but it has moved into other professions as well, such as software development, sales and marketing, administration roles, and even the law.


Uber drivers, Airbnb hosts, and more recently, Lime scooter "juicers", are examples of the trend.

The university researchers found young people who started out doing gig jobs were highly likely to be doing them long term.

The difference was dramatic between people with high and low levels of education. Highly-educated people who had a regular job at one time were nearly eight times more likely to have another regular job in the future.

Those with low levels of education and who had non-standard employment were nearly three times more likely to have non-standard employment in the future, compared to those who had a standard job.

The findings come just days after a claim that gig economy workers were throwing their rights away, made by Andrew Barnes of Perpetual Guardian, whose company has been a pioneer of the four-day working week.

He told the Herald employment legislation needed to be reviewed to ensure gig workers had the same rights as workers on permanent contracts.

"It's time to bring employment law into the twenty-first century and ensure all employees, gig or salaried, have flexible working opportunities, but also the same protections and benefits. This stops arbitrage of hard-won, and necessary, protections," Barnes said.

University of Auckland Business School professor Elizabeth George said the opportunities for gig workers decreased significantly once they switched from a regular job - and many were found to be trapped doing gig roles for a significant time.


"There are all sorts of hazards that could possibly explain the result that it is quite hard to switch ... the idea that you can come in and leave in this wonderful world of choice may not be that way," George said.

The researchers also found people in regular employment were more satisfied than gig workers. They were also less likely to be hunting for a new job.

University of Auckland professor Elizabeth George. Photo / Supplied
University of Auckland professor Elizabeth George. Photo / Supplied

"Sure, a nine-to-five job in the office or factory can feel boring and stifling. But it can also give you security, financial stability, a sense of meaning and identity, a social network.

"If you dissect the multiple gigs, there will be one that is really their passion and the others are sort of just helping to cover expenses," she said.

"This whole gig economy has been presented as this great option for freedom and opportunity but I think there is another side to it."

HR Executive founder and director Angeline Long said young people wanted flexibility in their jobs, and gig workers did it to fit work into their lifestyle.

"The days of people wanting to sit in an office for eight hours are dwindling, unless they can get flexible working hours they are no longer prepared to do it - and they'll take a pay cut to get a better [option]," Long said.

The days of people wanting to sit in an office for eight hours are dwindling, unless they can get flexible working hours they are no longer prepared to do it.

"They don't not want permanent work ... they want flexibility within permanent work."

One Auckland Uber driver, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Herald he did the job to supplement his income.

A chef by profession, he ride-shares his family car around his rostered shifts - he drives in the morning if he is rostered to work evenings, and in the evenings when he is rostered to work mornings - six days a week.

He said he had not considered leaving his job to drive for Uber full-time.

"For me it's about earning extra money to get ahead [financially]. I don't drive to necessarily be my own boss but it does I mean I can do it when I want."