Why Everybody’s Going Freelance

Whether they’re getting forced out of their jobs or freeing themselves from their organizations, 17 million Americans are going solo. Here’s what that means for the future of work.

Why Everybody’s Going Freelance

More Americans are declaring their independence: as in the 17 million that self-indentified as indepenendent workers–as in freelancers, temps, self-employed consultants and the like–as of May 2013, up 10% from 2011.


That’s according to MBO Partners, who does the taxes for such workers. And as the Wall Street Journal reports, the total number of indie workers is predicted to grow to 24 million in the next five years.

The new tendency to go independent is happening across demographics:

  • 36 percent are gen-Xers.
  • 33 percent are baby boomers.
  • 20 percent are millenials.
  • 11 percent are matures,
  • And equally male or female.

What’s fascinating is why people are increasingly independent, which owes equally to shifts in the workforce and the steady-going nature of humans.

Reasons why: de-commitment, self-expression, and layoff

“Companies are less committed to commitment,” Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners, told the Journal. They know that they don’t need to take on full-timers–and the costs of providing people health benefits, we can surmise–in order to get their work done, so they keep trimming core staff.

And with that, there’s more work for independents–who can find gigs through oDesk, Freelancer, and other services.

But it isn’t all rosy: the MBO report found that one in seven freelancers were independent for reasons they couldn’t control–layoffs, family relocation, and the like. And for those who choose the freelancing life, the reasons why are equally meaningful.


Here’s my number, autonomy maybe?

In his über-engrossing Drive, Dan Pink unpacks the three factors that make people most engaged with their working lives–the one we’re concerned with here is autonomy, since it’s so close to independence.

Organizational psychologists are finding that self-expression has deep links to productivity–which we’ll dive into deeply on Monday. It follows, then, that the autonomy of independence allows people to be more maximally self-expressive, and thus more maximally, sustainably engaged, and thus more successful over the long run.

Which sounds like an expanded–and idiosyncratic–career vocabulary, doesn’t it?

Hat tip: The Wall Street Journal

[Image: Flickr user Gemma Stiles]


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.