While 74% of the US working population works in full-time or permanent roles, more than one in ten employees have already joined what’s now known as the gig economy, according to a new survey by ReportLinker.
In addition, a third of US respondents to ReportLinker’s survey say they would consider exiting the traditional workplace to work as a freelancer or independent contractor, and nearly half of them say they would be willing to take the leap within the next three years. This suggests there could be a quiet revolution underway.
Given that a traditional job still offers a steady paycheck along with health and retirement benefits, what would inspire so many workers to join the gig economy? Being your own boss was the top reason cited by those who’ve already made the transition, with 28% of all mentions, says ReportLinker, while the ability to work flexible hours came in a close second.
Traditional workers are also more likely to consider freelance work if their current job situation is less stable. For example, 39% of job seekers say they would consider becoming an independent contractor, as would 59% of part-time workers and 33% of students, according to the ReportLinker survey.
Thirty-nine percent of job seekers say the gig economy appeals to them because it offers better work-life balance, while 21% of part-time workers say they would enjoy the freedom that goes with being your own boss.
Age and gender also impact the decision to become a freelancer. A quarter of mid careers workers between 35 and 54 years old say they are considering leaving their traditional workplace for a freelance career. In addition, men are more likely than women to consider becoming an independent contractor, with 40% saying the option appealed to them, says ReportLinker.
Unlike older generations, Millennials, who are more likely to be students, looking for a job, or part-time workers, are less interested than other age groups in embracing the gig economy. Still, a third of students do express an interest in freelance work, although 36% also aren’t convinced it will make them happy.
This might be because freelancing requires foundational skills generally picked up in the traditional workplace. To be successful in the gig economy, independent contractors need to be able to set their own goals, manage their own time and workload, juggle multiple priorities, promote themselves, and solve a wide range of problems on their own. This may be why people rarely start out as freelancers. Instead, two-thirds of freelancers say their move into the gig economy came after a stint in the traditional workplace, according to ReportLinker.
Another reason professionals may hesitate is because life in the gig economy isn’t always paradise. One in four freelancers say the lack of retirement benefits is a drawback, while others see the lack of unemployment insurance and job security as downsides.
Still, being happy in your job matters quite a bit too. For example, 73% of workers say they find a real purpose in their work. However, 38% of those who don’t believe their job offers them a real sense of purpose say they’re attracted to the life of a freelancer.
Ask freelancers if they’re happy with their choice, and the overwhelming response is yes. They’re likely to have a much more optimistic view than traditional workers. Thirty-eight percent say they’re strongly convinced they’re happier than their counterparts in cubicles, says ReportLinker.
The good news is that for many professionals becoming an independent contractor offers quite a few benefits – and profitable returns. Those likely to do best in the gig economy are “workers with specialized skills, deep expertise, or in-demand experience” who “can command attractive compensation, garner challenging and interesting work, and secure the ability to structure their own working lives,” writes Diane Mulcahy, author of The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life you Want in Harvard Business Review.
It can also be highly rewarding. Eighty-four percent of freelancers say they feel a sense of purpose working in the gig economy, with 59% saying they strongly agree with this statement. These independent workers are also more likely to be engaged in their work compared to full-time or part-time employees in traditional workplaces.
According to the survey, "It may still be too early to predict the full impact of the gig economy on the future of work. But if professionals continue to make the leap to freelance work over the next three to five years, it’s all but certain we’ll be looking at a new labor force dynamic."