Another month, another report on The Future of Work showed that the rocketing number of self employed people is demonstrating no sign of abating. Some reports suggest that by 2022, over 50% of people in the developed world will work freelance. I expect this trend to last the rest of my working life. I expect never again to call anyone “the boss” or “my manager”. It’s conceivable that a large number of people in future generations may never know what it’s like to work for somebody else. What is driving this, though?
Well, technology seems to be playing a large part (this report says that 15 million jobs in the UK alone are at medium or high risk of loss to automation in future) – as does the life and work outlook of the typical millennial. But there are other issues too and some of them are to do with the whole climate surrounding the modern workplace; many people of all ages are no longer willing to put up with what previous generations simply put up with for the sake of a wage.
Problems in the Traditional Work Place
For the first reason for this fundamental shift, we need only look as far as the problems associated with having “A Proper Job” as my parents and grandparents might call it. In a way, traditional workplaces have brought this on themselves partly through complacency in the face of rapid technological change and partly through systemic bad behaviour. They can expect to find an increasingly limited talent pool heading into the next decade if these trends are not reversed.
No Job Security
Millennials, hell, even my generation (I’m Gen X apparently but rarely feel the description applies to me) have never experienced the sort of job security our parents, grandparents and great grandparents enjoyed. It hasn’t existed in this country since the 1970s. It used to be a draw but with economic instability now commonplace in the neo-liberal economic system we have, self employment seems worth the risk.
Poor Wage Increases
The UK has seen (some say deliberate) wage repression since 2010. It’s certainly the case in the public sector and the private sector is following suit. With the looming economic disaster of Brexit on the horizon, nobody can expect a bonanza of pay rises for a very long time. By the way, both of the reports I’ve linked to so far have highlighted inequality, low pay rise, low investment and business culture as part of the problem so there are no sour grapes here. Couple all this with…
More Work and More Stress
The benefit of freelancing is that the more you work, the more you can expect to get paid. You can refuse work when it gets too much and when you feel client is asking too much for too little pay in return. In contrast, employees in the traditional workplace see measly pay for more stress, longer hours, more expected of them with less support, broken unions, fewer resources in work and dissatisfaction at epidemic levels.
Rewards for Failure at the Top / No Executive Accountability
But the worst kick in the teeth for the average worker is the perception that those at the top will continue to experience enormous bonuses, inflation-busting pay rises and golden handshakes for loss-making businesses. it’s certainly been the case in the finance sector and the recent collapse of Carillion here in the UK – one of the major contractors for the HS2 link, is a case of more of the same. Carillion is still paying it’s director an eye-watering salary with over 30,000 small businesses not paid what they are owed.
You can’t fight wholesale changes to the work ethic and practices of an entire generation. The much-criticised impatience and lack of respect for hierarchy of the average millennial must be adapted for, not fought. It is they and not the old and stale attitudes that will win. Why? Because they see their parents working themselves into an early grave in jobs they hate for a measly salary, low benefits, stress and misery in a workplace environment that no longer values people. They are creating the startups – they are adapting and creating the new technologies that are creating the jobs. The genie is out of the bottle and it won’t go back in until (if ever) the next generation of the workforce sees greater value in working for somebody else than working for themselves. It’s not just the millennials. People my age and older are giving up jobs of high pay and high stress to set up cleaning companies, and becoming freelance writers and photographers.
Benefits of Freelancing
The traditional workplace has played its part but it’s not all about the negative aspects of normal working that drive people into working for themselves. Many organisations are changing practices and adapting; most work with Unions rather than seeing them as an obstacle to business. Even with all the perks in the world, freelancing will always attract people for its own merits.
Reaping The Fruits of Your Labour
Who wants to get paid more the more work we do? All of us, naturally. Nobody wants to be pressured into unpaid overtime or made to stay behind to finish a project for not a word of thanks, let alone overtime pay. Simply, the more work I do in a week the more I get paid. It’s empowering and understandably, an attractive proposition for a large number of people. I can reject work because I have too much and finish my workday whenever I like (within reason – the work still needs to be done).
Single parents, people with caring commitments or other aspects of life that aren’t compatible with the traditional workplace fit perfectly with freelancing; these are people who may have ordinarily struggled to get 9-5 jobs because of the proverbial albatross around their neck. No matter how flexible a traditional workplace is, it will never be as flexible as freelancing. I can work whichever days and hours I choose without feeling I have to be chained to the desk at specific times. I have no children or caring commitments but that doesn’t mean I don’t benefit from this. For example, when I have a Friday afternoon spare, I go climbing.
Opportunity for those with Personal Difficulties
Self-employment opens up opportunities for people traditionally denied them through no fault of their own. . I’ve mentioned carers and single parents, but here I’m talking about people with disabilities and severe mental illness. These groups experience higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, and lowest employment rate of any demographic because their conditions are incompatible with employer requirements or too volatile. They get overlooked for this reason alone despite that it’s against the law to discriminate.
Interesting TEDxCalgary Talk: The Future of Work is Not Jobs
As a final note, most of this would not have been possible without the advances in new technologies. Skype, Cloud Storage, mobile internet, apps and many others have made it possible for me to become a freelance writer. My own incredible journey is all down to the fact that I can work on the other side of the world from a client and not have the timezone difference be a problem.
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