One can be the loneliest number — many UK freelancers feel lonely and isolated following leap to self-employment
The survey has revealed both sides of freelance life, for example, the self-employed are now a vital element of the UK economy, contributing to around £271 billion to the government’s coffers in 2017, of which around £125–140 billion came from freelancers. But with some predicting that by 2020 half of the workforce will be freelancing, we need to take an objective look at the world of self-employment and tackle its challenges head-on, giving freelancers the tools and skills they need to work effectively — and happily.
The research, which surveyed 1000 UK freelancers, found that most (91%) worked from home at least some of the time. When asked why they had chosen to freelance or work remotely, respondents said that a better work/life balance (53%) and greater flexibility (62%) were among their reasons; some said they wanted to avoid working in an office, which they found stressful (47%).
There are, however, disadvantages to solo working. While 54% of respondents to Epson’s study declared freelance life ‘liberating’, a striking 48% admitted to finding it ‘lonely’ and 46% said it was ‘isolating’. The absence of an office social life is felt keenly by some; 32% of respondents said they missed office banter and 29% missed being part of a team.
Perhaps this is why the study also uncovered some worrying implications for freelancers’ mental health. A quarter (25%) of respondents had experienced frequent periods of depression, and around a fifth (21%) claimed that the loneliness of remote working had caused them to have suicidal thoughts. The impact of isolation and loneliness on mental health is widely recognised, including by the national mental health charity Mind.
According to Mind, at least one in six workers are experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. It says there are small, simple steps you can take to look after yourself and make your workplace mentality healthier.
Annika Fagerstrom, head of consumer products at Epson UK, said: “It’s very clear that the leap into self-employment brings many changes, most of them beneficial. However, for those lacking structure or support, solo working can be tough.”
Here are a few small steps that could help return some all-important comradery back into the working life of any independent, flexible workers who are feeling the isolation of working as a team of one:
- Meet up with somebody during the day; this could be a former colleague, friend, business contact or fellow freelancer. The important thing is to punctuate the working day with some good company.
- Join local networking groups. Many towns and regions have business networking groups and you can find them through your local/industry press or on LinkedIn. Although many have a web presence, they often hold in-person meetings and events, too. You may even find a peer to collaborate with.
- Get mobile. If you have the right technologies and apps, and they are quite easy to come by now, you can work more or less anywhere, including areas where people congregate such as cafés and libraries.
Make friends online. There are many freelancer forums and industry-specific networking groups and forums online, the trick is to find one that suits you. Once you’ve done that, you always have somewhere to go for a chat.
Most of all, remember that you are not alone, as there are millions of solo workers in the UK and many millions more worldwide. Freelancers are at the vanguard of the new working world — all they need are the tools to make the most of it.
If you would like to include information on support for anyone affected by any of the issues detailed in the above press, Mind has a number of helplines available.