This is probably quite a scary thought for the workers who subscribe to the job-for-life paradigm — you know, that honest and committed, monogamous relationship style of employment. It’s no surprise that many feel this way: municipal systems, the credit system, and our value system are all designed to deal with people who are employed and not freelancers. If you become a freelancer, many administrative areas of your life become much harder: after all, you can’t produce an employment contract, pay slip, or employer’s reference on demand.
Despite the fears surrounding freelance work and the societal/administrative inconveniences, the reality is that the world is moving towards freelancing as a primary mode of employment. According to the Intuit 2020 Report, self-employment numbers will soar and contingent workers will make up more than 40 percent of the American workforce within five years.
Who knows: eventually, all jobs may be freelance jobs — which is an alarming prospect for many.
But the move towards a freelance world is not entirely bad, as many of those currently freelancing will testify. For example, this report from MBO Partners shows that the self-satisfaction levels of freelancers are high. The study found that 82 percent of freelance workers are either highly satisfied (63 percent) or satisfied (19 percent) with their workstyle. Freelancers seem to be more satisfied than the employed, who are currently reporting about an 87 percent work disengagement rate, according to a well-known Gallup study. Self-employed workers, despite the structural drawbacks, are happier with their lot than employed workers, and I assume they will not be rushing back to “normal” employment any time soon. In fact, 76 percent of freelancers plan to continue working in a freelance capacity, according to the MBO Partner study.
The move towards a freelance world is undeniable, but it’s not entirely driven by employers looking to create flexible workforces. That’s a big part of it — studies show that an ever-growing number of employers are looking to increase their use of contingent workers — but much of the move to a freelance world is being driven by workers themselves, who are looking for a greater level of flexibility and independence. This sentiment is especially strong in the millennial generation, with 83 percent of them saying that freelancing or working independently is the cornerstone of their career strategy, according to the Millennial Survey by Elance. With millennials expected to make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020, we can assume that they are largely responsible for this drive towards a freelance world.
While the freelance world brings certain changes — e.g., depleted permanent employment opportunities — this shift doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Some could say we are on the cusp of an industrial revolution of sorts, where the worker/employer monogamous relationship turns into a freelancer/clients polygamous relationship where, at least for the moment, job engagement and life satisfaction tend to be higher.
I admit it’s unlikely that all jobs will become freelance. Many companies, especially corporations and public sector institutions, depend on long-term, exclusive working relationships for structural stability. But, I can envisage a time soon where a reversal occurs and the majority of jobs on offer become freelance.