The business of YOU
Today is an average snapshot of my friend Zoe’s day. It’s 11am on a Thursday and Zoe, a talented copy editor, has just finished her weekly salsa dance lesson, followed by a dog walk with her rottweiler “Max” around Lake Calhoun. After a quick shower and a cursory check on her iPhone of the day’s tasks, she opens her laptop and starts working. It’s at this moment that you might expect a really irate manager barging into her work space and verbally laying in to her for abusing the company’s flexible work hours policy and rolling in late, yet again, but not so in this case. Zoe is her own boss and as such, answers to no one but herself, and she really likes it that way. Evidently, millions of Americans do too.
Zoe is just one example of what is being referred to as the “freelance revolution.” Less than a decade ago, roughly 16 million people were working as freelancers. Today’s estimates climb well beyond the 40 million range. Pretty astounding, right? But this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s important to point out that the vast majority of freelance workers, almost 55 percent, admit to self-selecting this path versus being forced into a freelance career, which may surprise many.
What motivates people to swap a traditional career path for a riskier, independent one, especially during such difficult economic times? Being happy, for one thing. Our interests change over time, and work that may be stimulating today can become mindless and rote tomorrow. Gaining new skills and consistently inventing oneself is so much easier when working outside the boundaries of an inflexible corporate framework. As a result, our definition of “career” is morphing into something totally different.
People are starting to move towards a trend of piecing together a string of mini-careers. It’s not wholly uncommon to see a resume that shows 6 or more roles over a 10 year time frame. Variety is, it seems, the new norm. Now that quick, neatly cocooned response tat answers the icebreaker, “What do you do for a living?” could instead be a list of projects. I’ve had more than one recruiter tell me over the last year that the trend, moving forward, will be geared much more actively towards contracting workers versus hiring employees. Your list of successful “projects” may prove to be more valuable than your entire career work history.
Full control over work schedules
Elance, a job site for online freelance workers, released results from a 2011 survey showing that freelancers are happier working independently (61 percent) than traditional employees (11 percent). The survey found that full control over work schedules was the most prominent factor for the rise in job satisfaction. It’s easy to see the appeal of having the ability to shuttle the kids to school or take salsa dancing lessons during the middle of the day sounds appealing, isn’t it? Almost as noteworthy as a flexible schedule, the survey found, was the ability be selective with the kinds of work they do.
And, while this new class of independent workers may yet be the most versatile our economy has ever seen, there are still many challenges ahead. Fundamental changes will have to be addressed in health care, unemployment benefits, and income taxation, most of which will be driven by whichever political candidate takes office after the general elections.
This may be the the most groundbreaking transformation in the American workforce since the Industrial Revolution, and our understanding of its structure and motivations will increase as more thorough research emerges. What is clear right now, is that more people are finding greater satisfaction in their work. And with all the dismal economic news these last few years, it’s a evolution that should be warmly welcomed.