Work Culture

Freelancing may be the future of employment – though it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds

Freelancing is often portrayed as liberating, empowering, and even glamorous, but the reality is far more complex.

Today, freelancers represent 35% of the United States workforce. In the European Union, the rate is 16.1%. Both figures demonstrate the same global trend: from creative entrepreneurs to those paid by the task, freelancing is on the rise worldwide.

So, too, are analyses of this phenomenon, as journalists, sociologists, human resources specialists, life coaches, even freelancers themselves try to uncover “the truth” about freelancing.

That’s because of the “gig economy”, as it is sometimes called, is a Janus-faced – and relentlessly evolving – phenomenon. Freelancing is often portrayed as liberating, empowering, and even glamorous, but the reality is far more complex.

In OECD countries, studies show that these individuals work chiefly in the service sector (50% of men and 70% of women). The remainder are everything from online assistants to architects, designers and photographers.

From the creative class to the precariat

A recent study shows that the majority of freelancers in OECD countries are “slashers”, meaning that their contract work supplements another part-time or full-time position.

Photo credit: Raido/Flickr [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]
Photo credit: Raido/Flickr [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]

These additional earnings can vary considerably. Those who spend a few hours a month editing instruction manuals from home may earn a few hundred euros a month. Freelance occupational therapists may pull in ten times that working full-time in this growing industry.

Perhaps the most glamorous face of freelancing is the so-called creative class, an agile, connected, highly educated and globalised category of workers that specialise in communications, media, design, art and tech, among others sectors.

They are architects, web designers, bloggers, consultants and the like, whose job it is to stay on top of trends. The most cutting-edge among them end up playing the role of social “influencers”.

In London, this group has been partially responsible for what the economist Douglas McWilliams has dubbed the “flat-white economy”, a flourishing, coffee-fuelled market based on creativity, which combines innovative approaches to business and lifestyle.

Such hipsters, who are also referred to as “proficians”, may be relatively successful in their self-employment, with numerous gigs and a wide portfolio of clients. For McWilliams, they just might represent the future of British prosperity.

Also working hard, though in a much less exalted fashion, are the “precarians”. These task-tacklers work long hours carrying our repetitive tasks, often for a single online platform like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Most of their gigs do not require a high level of expertise and creativity, and are thus easily interchangeable.

Job security is not assured for these online helpers, and though they likely work for a single company, as employees do, benefits are almost certainly nonexistent.

Between the creative class and those struggling to juggle enough gigs to get by, there are plenty of in-betweeners: bloggers driven by their passion to write but struggling to earn a descent living; online assistants satisfied with their jobs who had previously faced unemployment; students earning a few extra euros by working a handful of hours a week as graphic designers.

Freelancers constitute a diverse population of workers – their educational backgrounds, motivations, ambitions, needs, and willingness to work differ from one worker to the next, and it is accordingly difficult for commentators to accurately represent their diversity without resorting to caricature.

The search for freedom…and an income

Freelancing is increasingly a choice that people make in order to escape the 9-to-5 workday.

Many freelancers, whatever their job, may have originally opted for this employment model because it offers (or seemed to offer) freedom – the freedom to work anytime and, in some cases, anywhere. Only 37% of current US freelancers say they resort to gig work out of necessity; in 2014, that figure was higher, at 47%.

Of course, this is not the end of the salariat. Full-time, company-based work is still the standard for employment in most Western countries, as it is in Russia.

Nevertheless, with the rise of telecommuting and automation and the unlimited potential of crowdsourcing, it stands to reason that more and more firms will begin running, and even growing, their businesses with considerably fewer employees.

This does not necessarily mean an increase in unemployment. Instead, it likely means more freelancers, who will form and reform around various projects in constant and evolving networks.

The rise of freelancing may be a key visible indicator of the future of work, notably in terms of collaboration practices. Freelancers are already facilitating the co-management of projects. Soon enough, they will also be producing, communicating, and collaborating with firms, customers, and with society at large.

Given that they are not a homogeneous class of workers, managing these new managers will not be simple. Currently, there is not a single social protection system that cleanly corresponds to all freelancers, from house cleaners and taxi drivers to architects and news editors.

How can these individuals group and work together to promote and defend their diverse employment interests? Surely, some ambitious freelancer is on the case right now.

Anthony Hussenot, Maitre de conférences en théories des organisations et management, Université Paris Dauphine – PSL.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.