The Future of Work – is it Really Freelancing?

In a recent edition of the RSA journal entitled 21st Century Enlightenment, Lynda Gratton and a number of other industrial academics, gave their view on the important issues of work in the 21st Century.

Gratton talked about the ‘hollowing out of work’ which is a reshaping of the labour markets so that middle skill jobs disappear as they are outsourced or replaced by technology. What is left are low end skill jobs or high end skills with very little in between. To survive we need to become specialists but specialists in a number of different areas as our working lives span up to 60 years.

The implications of this are interesting from a number of perspectives. Specialising in something differentiates you from others. As such it creates the potential for isolation and loneliness. On top of this, the increase in self employment which we are currently seeing (whether it be voluntary or forced through poor employment opportunities), means that more individuals are working on their own. As friendships at work are one of the key drivers to engagement and well being at work (Gallup), this leaves a bit of a gap. However, when looking at the same engagement figures, self employed individuals are the happiest and most content of them all. This is probably because the self employed have higher levels of perceived autonomy and it is this autonomy that drives their sense of well being.

It could also do with age and lifestyle. The numbers of over 65s in self employment has expanded by 140% since 2000 with more and more healthy retirees willing to work past the age of 65 whether it be to keep their minds active or to top up their pensions. This potentially has huge implications for our economy. Just how motivated are these self employed individuals to develop a growing business which will then employ others? The RSA identified only one in six self employed ‘tribes’ who exhibited significant high growth intentions. The income earned by self employed, which is significantly less than counterparts in employment, suggests self employed are only just holding their own and thoughts of growth, adding value and product innovation are far from reality. One wonders whether high levels of self employed people, particularly those isolated and perhaps not suited to this style of working, are really what creates a healthy, vibrant and growing economy.

So there is something of a contradiction. If we are self employed we have (perceived) autonomy, we experience higher levels of engagement and well being but may be lonelier and poorer. It therefore seems critical that in order to experience freelance work as engaging and meaningful, individuals need to understand the implications of leaving the world of work behind. No corporate pensions, health care contributions or ready access to colleagues.

Some form of career counselling or coaching such as our Evidence Based Coaching, may well help clarify how wonderfully suitable (or not) freelancing life could be.