Free agents shun traditional employment

Jun 30 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Traditional employment is coming under increasing pressure from the flexibility, personal convenience and personal satisfaction offered by "free agent" and entrepreneurial lifestyles.

A recent study of American workers has revealed that free agents - individuals who freelance, work on a contract or temporary basis, act as independent consultants, or business-owning entrepreneurs – now make up nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of the total U.S. workforce, estimated currently at about 148 million civilian workers.

The trend is by no means confined to the U.S. As UK-based recruiter and Management-Issues columnist, Steve Huxham, points out, flexible working, the interim market, "portfolio careers", "portfolio jobs" – are becoming increasingly attractive alternatives to the old-school nine-to-five job and show no signs of going away.

"Whenever I hear employers discussing how they are going to compete for talent, the focus always seems to be on competition with other employers," Huxham said.

"What they seem to forget is that today's technology savvy workers already have more opportunities than ever to make a distinct choice between corporate life and working, in whatever capacity, for themselves – developing their own personal brand if you like."

And according new research by Kelly Services, these new breeds of worker are far happier with their lot than the average employee. Almost nine out of 10 (87 per cent) of free agents say they are "extremely or somewhat satisfied" with their current overall employment situation.

Satisfaction, compensation and a life-work balance can actually be higher for those who choose a free agent path

"The combination of several workplace trends - including shortened job cycles, the increase of project work, the acceptance of a new lifestyle and the emergence of the Internet and other technology - points to this trend of free agent workers becoming much more prevalent and more of an employment norm in the coming years," said Carl Camden, Kelly Services' CEO.

"The 'myth' of lifetime employment has touched all segments of the work force, and while this study points to several conclusions, it most notably tracks that satisfaction, compensation and a life-work balance can actually be higher for those who choose a free agent path."

Over and above earnings and work-life balance, the research also found that traditional employees are generally less positive than free agents in areas such as personal and professional development, stress, opportunities to expand their skill sets and even formal training.

In turn, and perhaps as a result, traditional employees are significantly less committed and loyal to their respective employers. "Traditional employees are generally carrying a heavier workload than they would prefer, and many report job strain and stress as an area of considerable discontent," Camden added.

"Likewise, traditional employees fare less well than free agents when it comes to receiving personal gratification and recognition in their jobs, as well as growth opportunities."

The findings come only weeks after the publication of a year-long analysis of the American workplace by Age Wave and The Concours Group which found that radical changes in attitudes have left many younger people uncommitted to their work and often constituting a negative influence in the workforce.

But while traditionalists might bemoan such attitudes as indicative of a decline in the work ethic, after all the years of restructuring, downsizing and corporate scandals, is it any wonder that 20-somethings feel pretty cynical about the entire psychological contact ?

So comes as little surprise that the top three factors that those surveyed for the Kelly Services research would change if they could reflect this same re-alignment in the relationship between individuals and their employers.

Americans – be they employed workers, retiring workers, workers re-entering the workforce after retirement, as well as the unemployed or those seeking employment – said they want less stress, better work-life balance, improved relationship with company management, job security and assurance of continued work.

And in another sign of the times, they also said that a company's ethical standards and practices are the most important determinant of satisfaction with one's current overall employment situation.

"A dramatic shift has taken place in the last five to 10 years with regard to more individuals seeking and sustaining independent work lifestyles," said Carl Camden.

"Reduced full-time employee work forces, a move toward outsourcing and an overall emphasis on reducing fixed personnel costs have created a new niche in the workplace.

"These individuals are generally very satisfied in their jobs, satisfied with their compensation - often finding they can make more working on a contract or temporary basis."

And identifying the crucial factor that will pose an increasing challenge to conventional employers in future, Camden added that free-agents "seem to want to fit their work into their lifestyle rather than fitting their lifestyle into their work."

Older Comments

I think you have identified the key reasons why so many people are being turned off traditional jobs. It's clear that employers won't look after you - job security is a thing of the past, pensions and health plans are being cut or abolished, you're expected to put in long hours - and for what? So that the CEO can pay himself millions for screwing up!

But now you can decide not to have a 'normal' job - and get paid more for it - and have a life. You're right, its about CHOICE. But most employers still don't understand this.

Denise Montreal

According to Spherion in the US (a recruitment firm), by 2007 52% of the US work force will be independent freelancers.


Leon Benjamin Hertfordshire