6 out of 10 freelancers often feel lonely due to their work

02 January 2020 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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Freelance work is often billed as providing workers with improved happiness, via more flexible hours, improved work-life balance and the opportunity to avoid the jostling of workplace politics. However, a new survey has found that well over half of all freelancers feel lonely, and suffer from depression, due to the trials and tribulations of life in the gig economy.

According to Consultancy.uk analysis of figures from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), the UK’s gig economy currently contains a labour pool of around 5 million people (about 15% of the labour force), having spiked from 3.3 million (12% of the labour force) in 2001. This includes a burgeoning freelance segment, consisting of an estimated 41% of all such workers, according to the IPSE, with a collective economic output “comparable to that of the entire motor sales industry.”

Some economists argue that Britain’s freelance sector enables huge amounts of value to be added to the UK economy, and the flexibility offered by Britain’s freelancers was calculated as adding value of some £21 billion to the nation’s GDP. At the same time, proponents of the gig economy argue that freelancing liberates workers from office politics and arbitrary office hours, while boosting immediate pay.

However, despite its apparent upsides, freelance employment is often criticised for further eroding job security and the rights of working people, by enabling bosses to hire and fire would-be staff more casually, and avoiding the need to pay into benefits such as pension schemes. At the same time, a new survey from Viking, one of the largest suppliers of office stationery and products in the world, freelancing also causes workers to suffer from isolation and social alienation.

6 out of 10 freelancers often feel lonely due to their work

Bob Huibers, Marketing Executive at Viking commented on the research, “Freelance working is often seen as the dream working scenario, where you can set your own hours, choose your own clients and avoid that dreaded daily commute. We wanted to find out whether it lives up to this reputation and uncover some of the challenges faced by freelancers.”

Viking surveyed 1,500 workers in the UK. This was split between 750 freelancers who work in usually office-based vocations and 750 workers who are currently employed in an office-based role. The results found that 64% of freelancers regularly feel lonely due to their work. On top of this, some 56% of freelancers said they suffered from depression and 62% felt stressed due to work, figures which stand in stark contrast to office-based workers, of whom 30% suffered depression and 55% were stressed.

The findings present a very different picture from that painted by a number of other studies by freelancing bodies. For example, research from independent professional services matchmaking platform Comatch found that the majority of freelance consultants not only enjoy life more than when they were part of firms, but actually earn a larger wage. One of the worst things such research could be doing is making freelancers think that there is something ‘wrong’ with them if they are not enjoying themselves.

Jenny Stallard, lifestyle journalist and founder of Freelance Feels, said of Viking’s research, “Isolation and loneliness as a freelancer often seem to go hand in hand but taking small steps and recognising the signs is a good place to start. You don’t have to become a receipt-inputting marathon-running ninja overnight. But if you are feeling stressed by the isolation, a group class or some fresh air might be just what you need to reset. It’s ok to say if you’re not coping, and if you are really struggling, there are charities such as Samaritans that can help.”

Part of the problem seems to stem from freelancers finding it harder to separate work and life. It is often said that by freelancing and “being your own boss,” workers can work more flexibly, finding more time for their families and friends alongside their job. The reality is that having to consistently secure the next gig to stay afloat means freelancers find it harder to switch off from work, however, with 30% taking their work laptop on holiday, and 48% of those reading and replying to work emails. In comparison, only 13% of office-based workers similarly take a laptop away.

Just 15% of freelancers said they avoid work altogether when on holiday, meaning that 85% never take a complete escape from their day-to-day routine. When it comes to office-based workers, 42% said they avoid work altogether. Despite this figure being lower, it still shows that 58% of the population aren’t taking a much-needed break to recharge batteries.

Huibers concluded, “We were shocked to see that so many freelancers suffer from mental health problems linked to their work, the solitary nature of being a freelancer and feeling unable to switch off on holiday. This research shows how it’s vitally important to get the right work-life balance and look after your mental health, no matter what industry you work in.”