Freelancing is often seen as an ideal type of employment. It is characterized by independence, a convenient schedule and workplace (‘independent contractors’ often work from home), psychological comfort (e.g., lack of overwork, stress and ongoing monitoring by superiors), opportunities for self-realization, and decent earnings. There is also a popular belief that freelancing can help people attain a proper work-life balance.
Irina Monakhova dispels these myths in her article ‘Factors of Satisfaction with Work–Life Balance: A Case of Freelancers’. In particular, she analyses how independent professionals see their work, uncovering the factors that disappoint and inspire them. As it turns out, freelancers have more reasons to be unsatisfied.
The qualitative part of the study includes an analysis of 15 interviews with freelancers. The quantitative part was based on the results of the International Freelancers’ Census, third wave (2014, a subsample of 10,754 people). This article was published in HSE’s journal Economic Sociology, Vol. 17, No.1, January 2016.
Factors related to satisfaction with life and work can be divided into responsibilities and resources. Responsibilities are the physical, psychological or social aspects of labour, which demand ongoing costs and effort. The concept of resources, on the contrary, carries a more positive connotation. Resources help to achieve goals, reduce physical and psychological costs, and stimulate personal development.
The ‘responsibilities vs resources’ antithesis can be considered in terms of motivation. A prevalence of responsibilities in tandem with a lack of resources can be destructive to one’s interest in work or any other activity, as well as hamper one’s sense of professionalism. Thus, responsibilities are often seen as related to stress and overwork, while resources are associated with heightened motivation, as well as professional and personal growth.
Irina Monakhova has uncovered the factors that appear as responsibilities for freelancers. They are, for example, unlimited working hours, overload and ‘last minute’ work. One answer given by a freelancer was quite demonstrative: ‘I slept four hours a day when I had to work, and then I was unwilling to do anything for three months’. Another survey participant described feeling like a ‘squeezed orange’. In other words, freelancers’ overwork can damage their private lives, even while popular opinion believes that freelancing ensures a balance between various spheres of life.
The other two factors viewed as responsibilities are multiple employment (i.e., when one has to work at two or more places) and emotional exhaustion at the workplace. In the latter case, a freelancer’s psychological fatigue can often shift to his/her family, thus possibly leading to conflict. ‘I’m also tired, and sometimes I can be unhappy’, one respondent said.
The realities of family life, such as taking care of children and maintaining a marriage, were also characterized as responsibilities. These factors can be generally interpreted ambivalently, both in terms of responsibilities and key resources (e.g., children inspire, a spouse can offer support, etc.). However, for those freelancers working from home, family can often be a distracting factor.
Firstly, the roles of parent and employee clash. For instance, children demand attention, while employees often must adjust schedules according to their needs. Secondly, if a spouse is nearby, they can often be an obstacle to working effectively. ‘When I have to work, you’d better keep away’, one of the respondents confessed.
Moreover, families often find it hard to understand what ‘working from home’ or ‘home office’ means. As a result, working from home is often seen as a form of unemployment. According to one of the respondents, they are often asked at home: ‘Why don’t you work?’ Another respondent was advised to ‘get a normal job’. A direct result of such misunderstandings is attempts to load freelancers with housework. It’s also clear that this is not only an obstacle for work, but also worsens family relations.
Some independent professionals stated that they were ready to sacrifice part of their work to pay more attention to their children (‘I prefer having a little less money, but healthier children’). One way or another, such solutions are a type of compromise.
Resources for freelancers included revenues and their level of professionalism. These aspects undoubtedly motivate full-time employees as well. However, they seem to be especially relevant for freelancers, since their earnings can often be irregular.
In addition, freelancers can be separated from the professional community in a certain way (i.e., they often find themselves outside of regular contact). Therefore, we may assume that maintaining skills is a rather sensitive issue. ‘It’s especially important for freelancers to have opportunities for development, and if they don’t, they feel useless’. The respondents also stated that external evaluation of their professional skills was very important.
Income is a resource for freelancers in the context of their own satisfaction with it. ‘I like it, since, this way, I can earn good money’, one freelancer explained. However, if income does not meet their expectations, freelancers are ready take more extreme measures, such as changing profession, which is quite understandable. ‘Without money, it’s impossible,’ several respondents commented.
Good earnings can help to compensate major responsibilities. ‘I endured a lot, but I was getting good money’, one respondent reminisced.
This research will be continued, Irina Monakhova said. In particular, family issues can be studied not only with respect to responsibilities, but also resources. Children and spouses can often offer help and inspiration for freelancers at the end of the day, which, in turn, helps to ensure a satisfying work-life balance.