Freelancers are happier than everyone else

UK workers end 2023 with unprecedented levels of burnout, while self-employed workers report feeling happier overall.

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Helena Young
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Working for yourself, not an employer, has been found to have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing, as high rates of stress and burnout raise the threat level in the UK labour market.

Freelance marketplace, Fiverr surveyed 1,000 UK respondents about their mental health and stress levels. According to the findings, 52% of company employees experienced burnout in 2023, compared to 37% of self employed workers or those who freelance.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that poor mental health in the private sector has contributed to a record increase in those who are not currently working.

The knowledge that self-employed workers are happier at work will only serve to accelerate the so-called ‘freelancer revolution’, as more people seek out jobs where they can manage their own workload and hours to protect their mental health.

UK employees: burned out and stressed out

Since the pandemic, 470,000 people have left the workforce on ill-health grounds, while many more continue to work despite struggling with long-term health problems. In total, 2.5m people are not currently in employment due to ‘work-limiting conditions’.

Commenters argue that the rise in these conditions is being driven by sharp increases in reported mental ill health, particularly among younger workers. ONS data from November, over 10% of employees aged 16 to 34 cited poor health as an issue that affects their work.

According to a 2023 survey by Champion Health, an employee wellbeing platform, 60% of UK workers are currently living with anxiety. However, only 10% are seeking or receiving mental health support.

Last month, the UK government unveiled its ‘Back to Work Plan’, a £2.5 billion package of support designed to help small businesses address the number of workers currently on long-term sickness absence.

However, no measures were announced to explain how the NHS services that the plan relies on will be funded. Business leaders have been left questioning how they will help employees to deal with debilitating mental health conditions without access to public health services.

Freelancers wooed by flexible working benefits

The Fiverr research also shows that freelancers are less likely to experience career regret compared to staff. 51% of company employees surveyed want to change jobs in 2024, compared to just 38% of freelancers and self-employed workers surveyed.

In part, this is due to a rise in demand for remote working. The pandemic forced a cultural shift as many businesses pivoted to flexible working arrangements, making traditional work hours less of a factor in performance management and achievement.

Today’s workers now care more about home working policies than pay, as they embrace new understandings of productivity that accept and respect a flexible work schedule.

The traditional 9-to-5 grind means workers cannot plan their schedule around their unique work style and preferences. As a result, they are less likely to operate productively. When the inevitable post-lunch slump comes on, they must simply battle through.

Meanwhile, freelancers can choose their own hours and map them around their own personal interests and social plans, improving work-life balance.

This is likely part of the reason why so many young people are favouring freelancing as a future career. The group that experiences below-average mental health may have pivoted towards self-employment as a workplace survival strategy.

Could you be happier at work? Get inspired by our full guide to the top cheap small business ideas for freelancers.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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