A new Canadian survey finds the "gig economy" is stressing workers out and damaging their mental health. Let's take an Uber ride to the nearest coffee shop to #discuss this topic while we wait for more work to arrive in our inbox!
The Ontario Federation of Labour recently surveyed more than 4,000 Canadians on the topic of "precarious" employment -- meaning, we don't know how much money we'll earn this month, and how will we pay the bills?
Whether we want to call it freelancing, the free agent nation or a super-trendy side hustle, the end result of all this solopreneuring can be the same: stress and anxiety.
The Ontario Federation of Labour finds the uncertainty surrounding the gig economy is creating a never-ending cycle of worry for the people who work from gig to gig. In fact, anxiety ranks as the number-one, negative gig economy side effect. Verging on one-third (31%) of survey participants said their emotional health has been the "most significant casualty" of the gig economy, while more than one-fourth (28%) said an "unreliable income" is also getting to them. More than one-fifth (22%) said the gig economy is hurting their ability to plan ahead financially.
Other anxiety-producing side effects of the gig economy include a lack of benefits, low wages and debt.
Okay, I know what you're thinking: We're not Canada, with its young and debonair Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, national healthcare system and tasty Tim Horton's coffee. USA! USA! But American gig workers do not have it any better than our nice friends to the north. When the University of Michigan studied gig economy workers in 2012, it found they were five times more likely than full-time employees to suffer from depression and three times more likely to admit to an anxiety attack within the past four weeks.
A recent Randstad report found 68% of U.S. employers plan to go "agile-only" (a.k.a freelance only) by 2025, too. So we'll need to figure out how to work in a gig economy.
Seven Tips for Freelance Success
I can speak to this topic with a certain level of expertise as a freelancer who spent a whole decade as a columnist for a national business magazine when I wasn't chasing down other random, paying assignments. Freelancing is fun, but it's important to know how to manage it from day to day. Here are my seven tips for making a freelance life work better:
1. Take regular breaks. I think the most important thing a gig economy worker can do is to step away from all communications devices at least once during the day. Turn it all off an hour (two if you can swing it) and go for a run, walk the dog, have a quiet lunch or find another stress-relieving activity. If you can find reliable, specific times of day when you're "off the clock," then so much the better. Set your work hours, and stick to them as closely as possible to create a flow to your day.
2. Make time for visionary thinking. My motto is "a watched phone never rings (or pings)." I can't stress this point enough. And you know what usually happens when you stop paying attention to your phone, tablet and laptop? Something will show up in your inbox, because it's Murphy's Law that somebody will call as soon as you're out of the office. It's easy to get tunnel vision when you work project to project, so you must make time for visionary thinking, too. Where do you want to be in five years, and how will you get there?
3. Stop looking at everything as a monetizing opportunity. You need a few things in your life that are not money-making opportunities. A volunteer gig, a pet, adult coloring books, tennis, running, baking are all good outlets for taking your mind off work. Anything that allows you to get away from the stress of always feeling on the clock. Create a space where you can get your mind off making money.
4. Become a saver. Speaking of money, you must become a saver. There's no way around it, since you do not know what types of unexpected expenses could pop up this month. Your disposable income isn't nearly as disposable anymore, but this is the price you pay for more independence, right? Buy a coffee maker and brew your own to save money. Switch phone plans. Know your overhead expenses. Put yourself on a budget, but set aside some money for fun stuff.
5. Understand the dichotomies of freelancing. You have a lot more freedom as a freelancer, but you never feel free from the pressure to perform, do you? This dichotomy -- the realization that freelancing isn't necessarily freeing -- is an unspoken source of anxiety for solo workers. As a freelancer, you're only as good as your last completed assignment; each project has to be the best work you've ever done. This is a high bar for anyone to meet consistently, and sometimes you will make mistakes. Don't be so hard on yourself!
6. Learn to say no. You don't need to take on every single project that comes your way. No, really! If the pay-to-workload-ratio is too far out of balance, then you'd be wise to refuse. You can actually lose money (and time) if you're not careful in the projects you accept. Give yourself permission to say "no" to projects that simply won't work for you. In doing so, you'll set boundaries with clients. To paraphrase an old song, you would do anything for work, but you won't do that.
7. Find the fun. Like any job, you'll have to find the fun in freelancing, where the job highs feel very high and the job lows feel very low. If today didn't go very well, then tomorrow is a new day. Start the next day by doing something that moves the ball forward a few yards. Find the fun in freelancing, and stay focused on the positive!
I'm sure I haven't solved the stress facing the average gig economy worker, but it's a start. Please feel free to share your freelancing experiences and what works for you. It's a tough gig, but somebody has to do it.