The Future of Work – Will Most Employees Become Freelancers?

Time to Adapt - ClockIt’s a trend, a growing trend, a worldwide trend – and a troubling trend. More and more, employers want those who provide them with services, daily toil, creativity and devoted effort to be “there” when they need them, and not to be “there” when then don’t.

It is as if employers want the advantages of having dedicated, on-call employees without having to abide by the “rules” that society – and the law – say they must obey.

The trend can be seen in the growth of “freelancing,” in which the working relation does not include the critical element of “mutual commitment” found in what we have always called “employment.” It is like the institution of marriage – with its expectation of longevity and loyalty – being replaced by the relation of dating – with its sense of “good for the moment.”

One reflection of this trend is the new idea, now popular in England, of the “zero-hour contract,” in which employees are being asked to provide the services, loyalty and efforts of an employee, while the employer guarantees “zero hours” a week of work. Yes, a purely “one-sided” commitment.

The trend is fueled by employers’ attempts to limit employment-related salaries and benefits, be free from employment-related laws, and avoid employment-related taxes. It’s fairly simple: when an employer can’t sell more goods and services to increase revenues, it can always try to cut its employee-related overhead. At this time, employees feel they have little bargaining power because there are so few jobs available. Many employees believe “Oh, well, freelancing is better than starving.”

The trend toward “solo-preneurship” will require that individuals begin to think and act more like “independent businesspeople” and less like “loyal servants.” In business, there is little loyalty, you sell to the highest bidder, and you are “there” for your customer only if it makes sense to be “there.” Missing family events, favored hobbies and vacation time is something more employees do, and independent business don’t have to.

At the same time, the required planning, saving, advertising, and collecting monies owed that are part of being in your own business take a lot of discipline, time and sacrifice. Being in your own business can be the best thing in the world, or the worst thing in the world, depending upon your skillset and patience.

The trend toward freelancing may be a dangerous and slippery slope for employers: once people learn the business skills required of “solo-preneurship,” and begin to enjoy the freedom from loyalty and subservience that is integral to the employment relation, they just may never go back, or at least not so passively.

So, like Derek Jeter, Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio – all of whom are freelancers – people who develop special skills, relations and reputations, and who learn how to negotiate for themselves at work, just might start getting paid what they are truly worth.

© 2013 Alan L. Sklover. All Rights Reserved