The fourth post in our Contracting series shares a Harvard Business Review article (“Thriving in the Gig Economy” from the March-April 2018 issue). It was co-written by three professors / associate professors from INSEAD, the University of Michigan, and Yale. Their blend of medical, psychiatry, management and business organisation, and organisational behaviour experience shines through strongly. They interviewed 65 gig / independent workers for the article.
As a nod towards its timeliness, the article references a McKinsey study which reports that "knowledge-intensive industries and creative occupations are the largest and fastest-growing segments of the freelance economy."
I found it both insightful and helpful, and I trust that our readers will too. For me, the juxtaposition of the anxieties faced versus the benefits of independence provided a useful perspective. In their words: "All those we studied acknowledged that they felt a host of personal, social and economic anxieties without the cover and support of a traditional employer… they also felt they had mustered more courage and were leading richer lives than their corporate counterparts".
One woman interviewed used the analogy of a trapeze to expand on her feelings: "...the void she felt when between assignments; the exhilaration of landing the next engagement; the discipline, concentration, and grace that mastering her profession required. Trapeze artists seem to take huge risks, she explained, but a safety system — including nets, equipment, and fellow performers — supports them: 'They appear to be on their own, but they’re not.'"
The sense of uncertainty echoes a previous New York Times article we summarised (see Contracting/Gigging - Uncertainty for Millennials), which covered the emotional impact of the “treadmill of temporary work” for millennials, particularly when gigging was not by choice. However, as this HBR article focuses on those who’ve actively chosen to work independently, it also speaks of the sense of empowerment of being a pioneer.
Trapeze Photo by Mr T in DC: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/5016629994/sizes/z/
Managing the pressures
One of the biggest emotional impacts of contracting/gigging is how it affects your sense of self. You can become your work, living and breathing it (like an artist or writer might). The authors comment on this existential question of identity, saying: "Unshackled from managers and corporate norms, people can choose assignments that make the most of their talents and reflect their true interests. They feel ownership over what they produce and over their entire professional lives… They care about both being at work – having the discipline to regularly generate products or services that find a market – and being into their work: having the courage to stay fully invested in the process and output of that labour."
To manage the ongoing feeling of unsettledness, however, it is helpful to develop a physical, social and psychological space for your work. The authors describe this as "an accomplishment; it must be cultivated, and it can be lost". They also recognise that the sense of nervousness/anticipation can be advantageous: "one consultant described [it] as the key to continued learning, and 'keeping my edge'" i.e. the feeling should be managed positively, rather than fully removed.
The authors explain how those interviewed create these spaces for themselves by establishing and maintaining "liberating connections" - "because they both free people up to be individually creative and bind them to work so that their output doesn’t wane" i.e. freedom with support, room to grow with accountability. The four dimensions are: place, routine, purpose, and people.
This third article in our Contracting series covers advice and suggestions from contractors on how you’ve managed your careers, and your reflections on the ultimate value to your careers to date of these contracting experiences. It ends with five suggestions for how to continue developing your career as a contractor. Thanks once again to all of you who shared your insights with us for this article.
It follows on from our two previous Contracting articles:
1) Contracting – Experiences of Being a Specialist-For-Hire, which covered your experiences of contracting and interim roles, what attracted you to contracting and the approach you’ve taken over time, what you like best, and what you don’t like
2) Contracting/Gigging – Uncertainty for Millennials, which shared a New York Times article discussing the pressure on professionals from the “treadmill of temporary work”, and an Allianz survey showing that 70%-80% of millennials value stability and security over change and flexibility
In the first we reported that a number of contractors highlighted the importance of taking responsibility for your own career, learning and growth, with one saying: "If you're not consciously managing your own development you may find yourself slipping relative to your peers." This is because longer-term developmental opportunities and managerial roles are more likely to be given to permanent employees.
You shared a wide range of reflections on the impact of contracting on your careers, covered in the following paragraphs. Some of these relate to the stage you find yourself in your career too.
Below we share two complements to our Contracting series: