Ah, the sweet freelance life: It means being in control of your own day, working in sweatpants, not having to count vacation days and a variety that you don’t find in your typical grind.
Temporary employment, contract work and self-employment have grown faster than permanent full-time employment in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) since the 1980s – and many young people are jumping on board.
But for all of its perks, freelance life has a dark side that some talk about and others (who prefer to fake it until they make it) may keep a secret. A recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that the educated, young people-saturated freelance economy is full of people who feel it’s their only option until they “find something better.” In short, it’s not always all it’s cracked up to be.
“It was awesome being in control of my own schedule and having things like the flexibility to work outside of the 9 to 5 workday and unlimited vacation days,” says ***Stephanie, 29, a Toronto-based graphic designer. “The problem was that I couldn’t book any vacations in advance anyway, as I never knew how my financial situation would look months from then. It was impossible to plan for anything.”
While a hit to your travel is definitely a First World problem to have (and something many pavement pounding 9-5’ers may sacrifice if it meant never hearing their boss’ voice again), for many freelancers, the problems run much deeper.
“I never knew how my financial situation would look months from then. It was impossible to plan for anything.”
A paper by McMaster University, Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario and The United Way called The Precarious Penalty reports that our modern-day precarious work culture makes it extremely difficult to build stable and secure lives. As a result, it can have incredibly negative consequences on the physical and mental health of precarious workers and their families.
The lack of benefits, for example, can take a major toll on already thin wallets when things like dental appointments, unexpected optometrist visits and much needed therapy sessions (which could be a byproduct of the freelance world in the first place) start to add up.
This can cause a lot of stress in a city where the cost of living is already sky-high. “I was always in a state of anxiety, wondering if I would have enough money to cover rent each month, let alone any unexpected expenses,” said ***Natasha, 34, a writer who left the freelance world to go back to her in-house public relations roots. “It didn’t help that I found myself having to chase down clients who owed me money all the time – something I hate doing.” She’s happier with the routine and stability offered by her new full-time job. For many, however, the return to the corporate world may be viewed as a failure or a regression rather than a positive move…so they miserably tough it out.
Aside from the financial stress, some find the freelance lifestyle extremely isolating due to the lack of social interaction offered in a typical workplace. It goes further than that; The Precarious Penalty found that people who work in precarious employment are almost six times as likely to delay starting a relationship due to employment uncertainty.
Over 15 per cent of workers in precarious employment reported not always being paid in full for completed work – something that, sadly, isn’t uncommon amongst my freelance friends.
As the report highlights, compacting all the pitfalls of the freelance world is the fact that race and gender can make things worse for some. In fact, the individual earnings of women are about 16 per cent less than men – sadly, a gap that’s only increasing (sigh). Not to mention, over 15 per cent of workers in precarious employment reported not always being paid in full for completed work – something that, sadly, isn’t uncommon amongst my freelance friends.
As we move further into a freelance-based economy, we need resources in place to support it that go beyond things like shared workspaces and freelance-specific networking events. The Precarious Penalty recommends that governments take action to produce “comprehensive, coordinated and integrated workforce-development strategies” that are sector-specific to address the unique needs of precarious workers. They suggest federal funding for Statistics Canada to collect better quality labour market data, and for the government to offer training for the precarious workforce that connects with real employment opportunities. Naturally, it also calls on governments to update basic protections and existing labour-market regulations, as we move further away from standard employment.
While many enjoy a fruitful freelance existence (many of my friends actually make more doing freelance then they did at their former day jobs), it’s important to be aware of the troubling reality faced by many others and make appropriate changes. Let’s be honest: the “gig economy” isn’t going anywhere.
***names have been changed.
Are you a freelancer? What has your experience been like? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.