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Freelancers are feeling stressed right now: here’s why

For some, the prospect of working on a freelance basis can seem the perfect way to fit work around other commitments

According to the Office for National Statistics, there are now almost 4.8 million people working on a self-employed basis in the UK; however, as tweeted by Sir Cary Cooper in December 2016, freelancers can suffer from a variety of negative mental health symptoms, leading to stress, anxiety and depression.

For some, the prospect of working on a freelance basis can seem the perfect way to fit work around other commitments, such as family responsibilities, or to fit other activities into the working day. The flexibility freelance working affords means these workers can manage their own hours, work part-time if desired, work remotely, reduce the time and cost of commuting, and fit activities such as exercise into their working day; however, Cooper – a professor of organisational psychology and health at MBS Manchester University – reports that negative mental health symptoms can stem from a range of frustrations experienced by freelancers, including the lack of regular hours, work security, and time management problems such as work not being provided when agreed.

Financial pressures, including being paid late or not at all, also contribute. Many freelancers work from home and loneliness is cited as a problem experienced by many; even freelancers whose work takes them into an organisation report feelings of isolation, as they are often not integrated into the workplace. These symptoms can all lead the freelancer to become trapped in a cycle of increasing stress.

As reported by the Health and Safety Executive, 37% of all work-related ill health recorded among employees is attributable to stress, with work-related stress, depression and anxiety accounting for 11.7 million lost working days amongst employees. These figures do not include those for self-employed workers; however, they do indicate the extent of work-related stress.

To exacerbate the problem, those who are self-employed lack statutory rights such as to sick pay. Self-employed individuals can apply for ESA (employment and support allowance); however, this is currently at risk of being cut.

Similarly, no redundancy procedures exist for a freelancer who may, for example, have carried out work for a client for more than two continuous years. The client can decide at any point to stop providing the freelancer with work and the freelancer must bear the brunt of any sudden loss of income.

To mitigate negative symptoms, mental health charity Mind emphasises the importance of self-employed people building up networks, professional or otherwise, to increase social and emotional support and to share ideas. Some networks may also offer free events and training.

On a more practical level, gaining the confidence to put in place clear invoicing terms, including the charging of late fees, can address uncertainties around being paid on time. Cooper adds that it is important to know when to say ‘no’ to taking on more work than is realistic and to recognise the negative impact of stress and seek health from a GP if necessary.

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