Are long working hours and financial uncertainty the key to happiness?

May 9, 2018
Are long working hours and financial uncertainty the key to happiness?

Most freelancers, from writers to professional translation experts to those who make jewellery, know what it means to work long hours. From changing client demands to front-loading work before taking time off, freelancing can mean working from dawn until dusk and beyond. The nature of the work also means that many freelancers face uncertainty over their income from month to month. 

Despite all this, a new study has found that working for yourself is a key element of a happy and fulfilling career. Quite simply, freelancers enjoy their work more. They also find it more rewarding than salaried workers do. 

Global trends

The study in question – Work orientations, well-being and job content of self-employed and employed professionals – was undertaken by researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Exeter. They consulted 5,000 workers, including those working in health, education and finance in the UK, the US, Australian and New Zealand, providing a global perspective. Non-managerial workers, supervisors, middle managers, and senior managers and directors were all consulted, as were self-employed workers from the management consultancy, financial services, retail, education, insurance and real estate sectors. 

Freelancers emerged as the workers who are most engaged with their work (while non-managerial company workers were the least engaged). This is likely as a result of freelancers having the opportunity to work on the projects that most inspire them, while other workers have to work on the tasks assigned to them by others. The element of choice is hugely important here. 

Freelancing benefits

Other benefits that freelancers enjoyed more than other kinds of workers were the ability to innovate, meeting their own high standards and setting themselves challenging targets. It seems that the level of autonomy that comes as an inherent part of most freelance work is key when it comes to job satisfaction. 

This is what led those who conducted the study to conclude that long working hours and income uncertainty are not barriers to happiness. These are overridden by the ability to pursue one’s passion that comes with working freelance. 

Surprising results?

The results are at once surprising and not surprising to those who have been working freelance for any length of time! Freelancers are aware that long days and financial uncertainty aren’t themselves the basis for a happy existence. However, these elements of self-employment are widely accepted as simply the nature of the work – and the ability to choose what that work entails is far more important. 

Equally, most freelancers will recognise the thrill of satisfaction that comes with meeting a personal challenge, be it in relation to landing a new client, completing a job ahead of schedule or producing a superb quality translation. It’s a sense of fulfilment that most salaried positions struggle to provide, which is another reason why salaried workers are so much less engaged with their work than freelancers. 

More than just work/life balance

Work/life balance is often trotted out as an argument as to why freelancers are happy in their work, so it is good to see that the new study explored the matter of self-employment job satisfaction from other angles. As the study’s co-author, Professor Ilke Inceoglu from the University of Exeter Business School, observed, 

“Being engaged in their jobs makes people feel energised and pleased with their own contribution. Measuring how engaged people are in their work is therefore a really useful way to gauge their wellbeing.”

Final thoughts

Have you worked in both salaried positions and a freelance capacity? Which made you happier? And would you ever go back to the other form of employment? Share your experiences by leaving a comment below.