To be or not to be a freelancer

To be or not to be a freelancer

Why are people choosing to go freelancer? Are they happier working for themselves? IPSE conducted a survey of over 1,000 freelancers to find out.

For many organisations, having an engaged and satisfied workforce means having a more productive workforce. 

But what is received wisdom for full-time employees is almost completely unknown in the freelancer community. While HR departments devote masses of resources to employee wellbeing and job satisfaction, there is little provision for freelancers. 

Now two million-strong and accounting for more than 40 per cent of the UK’s self-employed population, freelancers are one of the fastest growing and most important sectors of the labour force. 

Distinguished from other self-employed people by their advanced skills and expertise,  they contribute no less than £119 billion to the  UK economy. 

So as both the number of freelancers and their contribution to the economy continue to grow, it is more important than ever to understand why people are choosing to work for themselves and what effect freelancing has on their wellbeing and job satisfaction. 

Why work for yourself? 

One of the biggest questions to answer is whether most freelancers have actually chosen to go it alone, or whether they have been forced into this way of working. And, reassuringly, IPSE’s research suggests the former. 

Asked to pick the main reasons they went freelance, most of IPSE’s respondents went for positive answers: “Better work/life balance” (60%), “Control over work” (60%) and “Increased earning potential” (60%). 

For the most part then, freelancing seems to represent a positive choice for people. 

There were some, however, with less positive reasons: 18 per cent said they started working for themselves because they lost their previous job, while 13 per cent said they had no other option. Of these people, however, 70 per cent said they were actually satisfied with this way of working. 

It wasn’t just the people who didn’t actively choose to work for themselves: 84 per cent of the freelancers surveyed by IPSE said they were “very satisfied” with their way of working. That’s compared to a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) study, which found that just 64 per cent of employees feel the same. 

Freelancer satisfaction has also increased by one per cent since a similar IPSE survey in 2015. That may not seem like a big rise, but set against a background of political turbulence and a series of government attempts to restrict the self-employed, it actually shows the resilience of freelancers and just how satisfying working for yourself can be. 

Why so satisfied? 

So, what is it about freelancing that creates these extraordinary levels of job satisfaction? Well, when IPSE asked how working as a freelancer made respondents feel, many said they are often “cheerful (66%)”, “optimistic” (50%) and “energised” (46%). Again, this compares very well with the results of a similar CIPD study, which found that only 29 per cent of employees often feel cheerful. 

Freelancing is clearly a positive choice for many. But that doesn’t mean there are no challenges: 50 per cent of IPSE’s respondents said freelancing sometimes made them feel stressed. 

Even the challenges, however, don’t seem  to be enough to discourage people from working independently. Asked about the future, nearly two-thirds (64%) said they intended to carry on freelancing for the foreseeable future. By contrast, just three per cent want to cross over and work  as employees. 

Work and wellbeing 

It’s clear that freelancing has a positive impact on job satisfaction, but what about wellbeing? IPSE’s survey examined wellbeing by asking respondents about four key areas: confidence, health and physical wellbeing, fulfilment and motivation, and work and financial security. 

The results were mixed. For starters, 30 per cent said lack of financial security and uncertainty about the availability of freelance work impeded their wellbeing. On the other hand, 95 per cent said they were confident they could handle the challenges of their work, and 91 per cent also said they take pride in what they do. 

So despite a degree of uncertainty among freelancers, overall, working for yourself seems to significantly improve wellbeing. 

The best way to work? 

IPSE’s findings are clear: freelancing has a positive impact on both job satisfaction and overall wellbeing. 

What’s more, it looks like most people become freelancers not because they are forced to, but out of a desire for greater freedom and control. And even those who did not actively choose to become self-employed say they find it a satisfying way of working. 

IPSE’s findings also suggest freelancers are buoyed both by their confidence in their abilities and also by their sense of optimism about their work. 

Overall, freelancers seem to be very satisfied with their way of working. So it seems likely that more and more people have started freelancing over the last few years not so much as a shortterm solution during the recession, but because they recognise that freelancing is a satisfying and rewarding way to work. 

By Kayte Jenkins and Tristan Grove