The Rise and Rise of the Independent professional sector: Is ‘employee’ a dirty word?

In Ireland, at least, there is a cultural admiration for the self-employed person. Entrepreneurship and striking it out on your own have long been held as the pinnacle of success within the workforce here. Within the EU this view of the professional changes depending on culture and education. In the EU alone 37% of people would like to be categorized as the coveted title of “self employed”.

Recently I met with a really cool professional advisor with a large firm. This guy had been in the game for years and is excellent at what he does. At my workplace we have a “wear what you want” policy, akin to all the trendy work spots like Google and Facebook. My cool, professional, experienced acquaintance on the other hand had a strict policy like many of the bigger corporate firms in the world. Recently they had laxed the rules and said within the office (once they were not meeting clients) men were no longer required to wear ties, all the time. He was delighted and joked about it, however as I looked at this super intelligent professional and I was thinking, “I am pretty sure that he is fully capable of knowing what to wear to get the best results and I am not too sure prescribing him what to wear is in any way going to add his productivity”. I am not so naïve to think that these rules are not indeed in place for good reason and they do produce a very sleek professional exterior. A clickbate headline of the last couple of months was a lady in PwC who had to wear three inch heels in work and was condoned when she wore flats to her office. This is not helping and frankly is one of the many elements that is making people think outside the cubical.

The invisible workforce

Independent professionals are hardly visible and not immediately decipherable from the rest of the workforce. You don’t see them, they don’t have uniforms, they don’t have a brand, they don’t have a lobby group and they don’t know what they will be working on in a year’s time. The draw backs of the lifestyle revolve around job security, a place to work, tax laws which have not caught up with this segment of the work population and receiving payment for work done.

The advantages seemingly outweigh the draw backs. In part 1 of The Rise and Rise of the Independent Professional Sector I outlined that the recession and technological advancements that hot housed the growth of the independent professional. 15% of the EU is classed as an independent professional as of 2013. It is hard to get more accurate numbers as they are a group that are consistency overlooked by policy makers.

“Sticking it to the man”

Freelancers get to have a choice about what they work on. Each project is new and fresh. Working with a new team of people and working on something that is different. Making various contacts in different fields. This isn’t the biggest benefit. It gives workers the chance to make their own choices in relation to their families and home life. Work life balance was unheard of forty years ago but, in the Western World it is something that we are embracing. Freelancing gives power back to the worker. It also allows the worker to pick the jobs they want to work on to progress their own career.

With extensive labor laws paired with internal company policies work days, trends and rules can seem rather prescriptive for many workers and employers. If you are told how to present yourself and how to conduct yourself there is no ambiguity to your status as a subordinate. Some of these rules and laws, of course, are for the benefit of the labor force, protecting them from abuse of employers. On the other hand, they also breed a culture of mistrust between employers and employees resulting in a feeling of ‘us and them’. An independent professional still can work completely on their own terms. They have a skill set that they are paid for and when they receive work they usually can do it from their own home or by visiting an office for a couple of hours. It doesn’t matter, really, if they wear a tie or a tie dye t-shirt. More and more this work is being done remotely giving people a feeling of autonomy and personal responsibility. Independent professionals are truly sticking it to the man.

“Meet our team”

The desirable nature of the work and in Ireland the admiration of that status is adding to the rapid decrease in respect of the word “employee”. On no website will you find a section that says “meet our employees”, you are invited to meet the “team” or “our people”. The title of “employee” is implicate of submission and a lack of autonomy, a not so appealing concept, a dirty word. Employee dehumanizes the workforce. The independent professional sector is booming, and it is of little socio and cultural surprise.

Where are they working?

Although, you may not see them, freelancers are growing in number, they are taking control of their own professional life and taking back time for their personal life. Their lives cannot be defined by any stereotypes just yet as they are unrepresented in media, literature and political policy. This has advantages and disadvantages like everything. It means that many of the resources that many independent professionals need is not always there. Many complaints revolve around the loneliness of working independently, without colleagues, sounding boards and sometimes with an environment that is not conducive to working e.g. having a child in the home.

This in turn has joined the dots between the rise of the independent professional and the rapid growth of coworking. The two are intangible and talking about one ultimately leads to talking about the other. Coworking is responding to the urgent demand for cheap, flexible and fashionable places to work.

Are these environments the most advantageous to independent professionals? Do they provide what independent professionals require? Or are they just office spaces with excellent interior design dripping with hipster-esk sensibilities?

In our next addition of The rise and rise of the Independent professional we will investigate the advent of the coworking space in relation to independent professionals.