After some US studies indicated that a proportion of American freelancers showed some significant stress-related mental health problems, an expert on freelancing has dug beneath the headline findings to unearth the more nuanced truth: contracting isn’t for everyone, but for those suited to it, it’s a godsend.
The studies were cited by freelance writer Cinnamon Janzer in an article for nymag.com, and they included references to “chronic strain and a reduced ability to relax” as well as “sleep disturbances, depressive symptoms, a high prevalence of antidepressant drug use and ‘presenteeism’” (the compulsion to turn up for work even when ill).
Joshua Waldman, who works for contractor/small business accountancy software company Billy, found the general drift of the article surprising. The cited findings seem to flatly contradict other surveys showing that a majority of freelancers and contractors began working independently by choice. One survey by consumer research group ReportLinker found that an overwhelming 70 per cent of contracting/freelancing respondents are happier than traditional workers.
How can these divergent findings be reconciled?
Mr Waldman is clear: freelancing and contracting can indeed be a stressful career choice, especially in the early phases. It’s not easy to become your own boss or achieve a good work-life balance, and finding new clients can be a difficult business. However, most contractors and freelancers who have been working independently for some time consistently say that the stress and difficulties are “worth it.”
Some studies suggest that people who crave job security and a regular salary may not be temperamentally suited to contracting and freelancing or working for Umbrella Companies. While there’s undoubtedly some truth in this, Mr Waldman suggests that the truth is more complex. Although people born into the younger Millennial generation appear more inclined to accept freelancing, some research states that many would, even so, prefer stable careers. They’re responding to a changed job market rather than making a positive choice.
A recent study by LinkedIn found that the older Gen-X and Baby Boomer generations are more positively attracted to independent, flexible working than their younger counterparts. The main reason cited is that they are strongly motived by the desire to become their own boss. They’re not immune to anxiety and bouts of feeling low; it’s just that they seem more able to survive them unscathed, possibly because they have more life experience to draw from.
The bottom line is that risk is an inevitable feature of human existence. You can try to flee from it or seek shelter from it with illusory securities, but you’ll never escape it. Freelancers who thrive seem to know this deeply. They tolerate the insecurities in order to reap the benefits – among them, autonomy, control, flexibility and freedom.