Advice: My freelance ‘flexible’ job is like being an employee without the perks or boundaries

Our agony aunt answers a readers dilemma about freelance boundaries at work: "My ‘flexible’ job is like being an employee without the perks..."


Advice: My freelance ‘flexible’ job is like being an employee without the perks or boundaries

Readers Dilemma: I love my job and the immediate team I work with. I am a contractor, so the benefits to me are that I can fit my work around childcare, I plan my diary and choose when to go on holiday, and I do the work my way. The cons are no sick pay or holiday pay, no guaranteed salary at the end of the month nor any other additional benefits that come with being an employee. However, I feel as if I am being treated very much like a staff member, expected to be available and at my desk all day, yet without any of the benefits. I know it would do me well to shift my perspective but I am struggling to do this. Can you help me? Name supplied

Mary Fenwick Agony Aunt’s Answer: Although you might feel alone in solving this issue, you are part of a new way of working. At least one in 10 adults in the UK works on freelance contracts or gigs. You are living both the upside (flexibility) and the downside (what are the rules?). I talked to Jamie Woodcock, an academic and the author of The Gig Economy (HarperCollins, £18.99). He says it’s easy to forget that work is always a negotiation: ‘Most of us feel we have to take what’s offered but, historically, work has changed, and whole industries have transformed.’ A good place to start is checking what’s in your contract, and how that might compare with standard conditions in similar roles. The ACAS helpline (0300 123 1100), an independent body for workplace relationships, is a useful source. The name stands for ‘advisory, conciliation and arbitration services’ which means they don’t take sides, but will help you to understand your position. What are the existing networks in your field? What is the union that covers your type of work? Do you have friends or former colleagues who might share their experience of working like this? For example, I’m a member of a Facebook group specifically for freelance women journalists, and I might ask: ‘How are other people dealing with this?’ With a bit more knowledge, you could open up the conversation with your workmates or boss. A team discussion about working hours and expectations might help everyone, or perhaps a standard sign-off on emails, such as: ‘I’m a contract worker, I check my messages here at X times on Y days.’ If you work in a niche area, I suggest contacting the Independent Workers’ Union, which has a general member’s branch for people who don’t fit another category yet. Don’t hold this worry on your own: this is something a lot of people are figuring out together. 

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