Who doesn’t say “yes” to freedom? It’s nearly inconceivable if you ask someone whether they value freedom to imagine them saying, “No. I prefer being oppressed.” But when you couch that question and make it about the work you do, it’s far easier to imagine someone saying “I prefer the dependability of a regular paycheck.” But the tradeoff for that comfort is less freedom.
Maybe you’ve worked places where you’ve been told that your advancement and personal development is among the company’s primary objectives. That sounds kind of free. But it’s not actually true. Chances are you would actually feel freer with a dozen less repetitive compliance courses, five fewer meetings per day, more opportunities to work remotely and a lot fewer calls on the weekend and during vacation.
But you tell yourself that you’ve built a life around the steady income and take the hit to your personal freedom for the sake of home and family. But whether we like it or not, those opportunities for that kind of dependability are not the wave of the future. A recent poll shows that 1 in 5 workers today is a contract worker or freelancer- growing from 10 percent in 2005 to nearly 20 percent of the workforce today.
In the future – for better or worse – employees will be “more free” and a lot less tied to their employer. But for workers under the age of 45 not only are they expecting it, they have learned to embrace it. The downside to this labor model is that there wll also likely be fewer safety nets and managed plans for workers – which means more personal finance and health care planning is required.
With two kids in college and recently losing a portion of my own safety net, I’ve quickly come to appreciate how ill-equipped we are as new graduates or transitioning adults to navigate what lies ahead. A few searches of health care insurance websites and suddenly my life has become all about endless phone calls from brokers and providers – with me not knowing which are trustworthy, what questions I should be asking or even fully appreciating the distinction between major medical and supplemental insurance. This is the scary part of my new found freedom – not knowing what I don’t know while having less of a cushion to absorb any potential missteps.
I have been referred to dozens of websites, contacts and helpful resources. While this provides a sense that people care, which I greatly appreciate, it doesn’t provide a framework for evaluating all of these different inputs. But in many ways, I also feel grateful that I’m having this opportunity to experience this and other uncertainties about generating an income while protecting my health and financial well-being. I have long known that my children’s employment pathways would likely look very different from my own. I wondered how I could counsel them about their careers and future when my experience had been part of a tradition that is fast-fading away. I now feel far better equipped to understand this new world of work and be a better advisor as a result.
Many things can be invigorating about the diversity of opportunities with contract and freelance work. Each new experience expands your professional network, adds expertise to build your resume and keeps you intellectually involved in learning. While there is undoubtedly stress, 84 percent of contract workers indicated they were not worried about losing their jobs. Meanwhile, full time permanent employees are frequently stressed by long work days, fear of job losses and the inability to find work/life balance while advancing in their careers. Should they lose their jobs the potential of being qualified for a new career in a different industry becomes challenging, as well, because their experiences may be so narrow and limited.
So rather than missing the good old days when we worked for one employer our entire lives, I think we owe it to young people everywhere to help prepare them for this new world. Should children graduate from high school without understanding the need for medical insurance and how to obtain it? Shouldn’t everyone have some exposure to generating a retirement savings account sooner than later so even a modest amount of savings will have the benefit of time to accrue? And shouldn’t we all be better prepared for multiple types of jobs so as workforce needs change rapidly, we have skills that can also be flexibly deployed.
By doing so we can enjoy more of the freedom of freelancing without the fear of the uncertainty. It seems time we all start embracing this change and giving the future generations of workers the best chance to succeed as they pioneer new ways to work.