Over the last decade, the way we work has dramatically changed. Freelance, contract, and gig work have become a dominating force in the modern employment landscape. And the gig economy shows no signs of slowing down: According to Forbes, 36% of the U.S. workforce is involved in the gig economy, which equals about 57 million people.
While there are numerous benefits to gig work, such as greater scheduling flexibility and the freedom to work from nearly any global location, contract-based employment may actually be detrimental to your mental health. A recent study titled, “The Generation Effect: Millennials, employment precarity, and the 21st-century workplace,” looked at the ways in which the rise of precarious work is affecting an entire generation of millennial workers, and the results are bleak.
Notably, the study found a “disturbing” trend in the overall mental health of gig workers. As there are few guarantees where the stability of gig work is concerned, nearly half of millennials are reportedly depressed or anxious due to their work status. Further, 38.7% of those surveyed said they were “angry” about their uncertain work status in the gig economy.
So what are the ways that the gig economy can negatively impact your mental health? And what can be done to better preserve the mental health of workers in the gig economy?
The Lowdown on the Gig Economy
The gig economy is vast and encompasses myriad types of work, from rideshare driving and various delivery services to dog walking, content writing, and consulting. As with any form of employment, there are various pros and cons of working in the gig economy. For many individuals living with mental health disorders, the gig economy provides an effective way to make a living without having to deal with the stress of office politics, socialization with co-workers, or unhealthy work environments.
However, social isolation is often an unintended consequence of working in the gig economy. Consistent isolation can exacerbate the effects of clinical anxiety and depression, and leave us less able to cope with stressful situations. For those with existing mental health disorders working in the gig economy, it’s imperative that you reconnect with other humans when you’re off the clock. Consider attending a support group, enrolling in an exercise class, or joining a book club to help counteract the isolating effects of gig work.
Yet you may wonder how you’ll find time to socialize, as it can also be difficult for gig workers to cultivate a healthy work/life balance. The gig economy is extremely competitive, and workers often must grab gigs as they come, even if it’s the middle of the night or a planned day off. And the feeling of being almost constantly on the clock can also be detrimental to a gig worker’s overall mental health, especially for those living with co-occurring disorders.
Benefits of the Gig Economy for Employers
The unfortunate reality in today’s employment landscape is that worker health is typically a low priority. As for companies that hire freelancers, the gig economy may actually reduce stress among hiring and project managers. Partnering with independent contractors can save companies a pretty penny on healthcare and hiring costs, thus improving their bottom line with minimal hassle and/or the implementation of policy changes.
Many companies also appreciate that they have a much larger talent pool from which to choose. What’s more, selecting the best candidates for short-term or gig work is an almost completely automated process, where onboarding is streamlined and data interpretation doesn’t even require human intervention. Unfortunately, however, that automation means that the human element is virtually eliminated from the hiring process.
It can be difficult to find the motivation to work when you feel less than human, and that you’re just a commodity in the eye of your “employer.” When you’re also living with depression, an anxiety disorder, or recovering from addiction, the problem may even be compounded. The good news is that various coping methods exist that can keep you productive while reducing stress.
Coping with the Negative Effects of Gig Work
The gig economy is appealing for many of us who feel overwhelmed in a traditional work environment, but contract work comes with myriad stressors of its own. Along with gig competition, social isolation, and time management, there are logistics to consider, which include accepting assignments, invoicing, and getting paid.
If you drive for rideshare platforms or delivery services, the bulk of logistics is taken care of for you, and your work and income is tracked via an app. Other freelancers may not have that luxury, however, and must track gigs and send out clear, organized invoices to clients on an individual basis. Even if you utilize professional, invoice templates, the invoicing process can be extremely stressful, sometimes resulting in inconsistent payments, and necessitating frequent follow-ups.
As your gig and contract payments can be inconsistent, you should plan for that eventuality if at all possible. Setting aside a small amount of cash in an emergency savings account can bridge the gaps in between gig payments and dramatically reduce your financial stress. Mindfulness meditation may provide another avenue towards ridding yourself of work-induced stress and anxiety.
For those living with mental health disorders, working in the gig economy is an increasingly appealing option. Those with social anxiety may benefit from working from home, in a quiet space, while those who have trouble waking up for a traditional 9-to-5 may revel in the freedom that comes with setting your own hours. Before you fully commit to life in the gig economy, however, it’s important to consider how the downsides of temporary work can negatively impact your mental health, and prepare accordingly.
About the Author: Sam Bowman writes about people, tech, wellness and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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