Working Transitions

The power of reinvention - how to ensure that you don't lose your identity when you go freelance

The number of people being hired on a permanent basis has dropped more quickly than at any point since May 2009, according to a survey out last week by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), compiled by Markit. Comparing the number of staff placed in permanent positions with the number in the previous month, the Report on Jobs recorded a seasonally-adjusted index of 45.4, down from June’s 49.3 and May’s 52.9. Anything below 50 represents decline in job candidate placements.

The survey also showed that temporary worker/contractor billings increased in every region as employers turned to casual staff, contractors and freelance employees to meet demand instead of making permanent hires. Many are predicting that this trend will continue.

Contracting/freelancing is now seen as a viable career option and many people are taking the decision, whether proactively, or as a reaction to being made redundant, to work for themselves. In 2015 15% of the UK labour force was registered as working for themselves, which is a huge increase on a decade before.

Whilst this is set to be the trend, moving away from the comfort of permanent employment to an uncertain role, does often bring a considerable feeling of loss for the individual, even if the choice to make the change has been proactive. As Professor Cary Cooper, president of the CIPD says “the transitional stress is high.”

This is because an affiliation to a particular organisation or business, according to careers expert Professor Herminia of INSEAD, is a big source of identity for the vast majority of individuals. Herminia argues that this affiliation not only gives people their sense of identify but even their status within society. In effect she states that people are defined by their role within an organisation, and they are comfortable to be so.

In many cases, where someone’s role and career is central to their life, the move to become a freelancer, and thus losing the very job that defines them, can hit them hard. This is because the organisation someone has been a part of, allows us to be affiliated to something within a group of people with whom we bond. Leaving these people to work for ourselves can simulate feelings associated with bereavement.

There are a number of things you can do to ensure that you make a success of freelancing from a transitional point of view and to limit the emotional stress of such a move:

  • Seek a new social identity. Volunteer or engage in a new club/activity/interest.  Basically do something different that focuses purely on your social needs and which gives you identify outside of work.
  • Create your own work culture. This could be by taking on some shared office space, joining networking groups or maintaining a community of freelancing contacts.
  • Change the way you structure your day. Do not follow the structure you had when you worked for an employer. Change things such as the times you work, the order you do things and your general approach. Do not try to emulate, but instead create something different.
  • Define the narrative around your freelancing role. Understand how you will describe it to people when you meet them (including why you left) so that you have a clear identity.
  • Try to take on work that uses a mixture of what you know and did with your previous employer, whilst dipping into new and different sectors. This will allow you to both create a new identity but also carry your previous identity with you into something fresh.
  • Access support. If you are turning to freelancing because you are being made redundant, make use of any outplacement support services your employer may offer you. Your career coach will be able to work through the practicalities of freelancing, but more importantly help address issues of identity and loss.

The trend for people becoming freelancers and contractors seems set to increase, yet many who do so often feel a significant loss of their identity. This can perhaps be one of the hardest issues to address in the transition away from permanent employment and one which, if not resolved, can impact success. By being aware of the challenge and meeting it head on, freelancers and contractors can make a success of their self-employed role and create a new identity, every bit as strong as their previous one.


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Working Transitions
10 August 2016
Supporting effective and successful organisational change


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