I recently attended the Self Employment Summit at the RSA, whereby a whole range of factors around the rise in self-employment were discussed by a plethora of interesting folks, ranging from entrepreneurs to economists, politicians to philosophers.
A central theme of the day was the wellbeing of such freelancers. Those on the positive side of the fence regarded a move to self-employment as a liberation, whilst others worried about the drop in average income and the emotional uncertainty that being self-employed brings.
So it’s interesting to read a recent study into freelance workers that has set out to discover some of the key factors that are affecting their wellbeing levels.
What makes a freelancer happy
The study, which was conducted over six months and will be published in Human Relations, found that the fluctuation of hours that is so common in freelance work was a key determinant of their mood, with the highest wellbeing perhaps not surprisingly being when they have more work than normal.
“Freelance workers are calmer and more enthusiastic when their hours are higher than their normal pattern of working,” the authors say.
This contrasts starkly with their mood when they’re experiencing challenging demands, whether that’s a difficult client or a lack of work, at which time their anxiety levels increase and even the enthusiasm levels experience a drop, with some even falling into depression during this difficult time.
The work-life balance of the freelancer
The intransigent nature of freelance work can often play havoc with ones work-life balance. Whilst in theory you have the opportunity to work whenever and wherever, in reality it can be difficult to switch off, especially at times when there is a lot of work on.
“Demands adversely affect people’s work-life balance, in particular work interferes with fulfilling family and other non-work commitments or pursuits. But so does the enthusiasm generated by longer hours. The enthusiasm may be at the expense of non-work activities, as, for example, people may not readily leave tasks uncompleted to be finished another time,” the authors say.
This is an interesting point, because it highlights the importance of quality time, and the paper emphasizes the higher quality time freelancers can spend with their family if they’re sufficiently enthused by the work they’re doing during their work time.
“The calmness associated with long hours has, though, the opposite effect — it decreases work-family/non-work interference,” they say.
About the study
The findings were based on a number of diaries completed by nearly 50 freelance workers, together with a weekly survey undertaken by each participant over the six month period.
The results revealed that whilst self-employed workers are generally under the same pressures and demands as their employed peers, the control over the way they work, and the variety of work they’re often engaged in, can make them happier people.
They caution however, that this enthusiasm may fluctuate alongside the fluctuation in work and income opportunities afforded them. With freelance work seemingly on the rise however, studies such as this one, and indeed the work of the RSA, are likely to be crucial in ensuring this section of the workforce are better understood and catered for.