Flexible working is a BIG old buzzword in 2018.
It’s what mothers have been denied for years, and only now in the digital age are businesses and entrepreneurs starting to pull together some sort of plan to help workers find hours to fit around their needs.
A new survey says that of 1,800 UK professionals (78% of whom said “their current or most recent employer offered flexible working”) found that 30% of flexible workers felt they were regarded as less important, and 25% said they were given fewer opportunities than colleagues who worked conventional hours. A quarter also believed they had missed out on promotion.
Emma Gannon has been the champion of flexible working in the last few years, and with the release of her most recent book The Multi-Hyphen Method she has firmly rooted the notion of freelancing in thousands of young adults across the world. I too jumped on Emma’s wonderfully positive take on all the great things that are possible from being self-employed, and went fully freelance in January 2018.
This was half out of a passion for the job and half out of necessity for my mental health. Every job I’ve had as an adult has been hard to maintain because of my inability to cope with stress. I don’t mean coming home to have a moan every night because my boss didn’t give me a promotion. I mean leaning on booze, dabbling in self-harm, hiding in toilets and verbally abusing staff members as a result of my depression and anxiety.
I knew that working in catering was unsustainable so I built up my experience as a writer and social media manager and jumped into the world of flexible working, hoping that it would hold the answers to my prayers. It’s been a pretty stressful transition
Don’t get me wrong. I would much rather be sitting at home typing on a laptop than waiting tables and scrubbing a dishwasher every day. One job isn’t better than another, but having to be in front of customers pretending to be happy-go-lucky just wasn’t possible for me on a consistent basis.
So at home, sat in my pyjamas sporting six day old hair (yes, six) I can be as sad as I like and still be productive. Or so I thought.
The last few months have been testing. I’ve had the flexibility to work the hours that suit my mood. Sometimes this has meant a long lie until 10am and then a really productive afternoon. In the beginning, I was able to take self-care days as required, where I would turn off my phone and get outside in some fresh air. Or just lay on the sofa and watch a movie. But that idea of flexibility has all but vanished.
Now, I sleep in late because I’ve more than likely worked until midnight the night before. Self-care days have turned into self-care ‘moments’, like wearing a face mask whilst I chase up late invoices or doing my dishes in between proof-reading. I’m constantly dangling a carrot in front of each long stretch of work, and basic necessities such as showering are now becoming an afternoon reward as opposed to a morning routine.
I have friends who are in the same boat. My friend Fay has a chronic illness and works from home because it’s the only legitimate way she can earn a living whilst managing her ever-changing symptoms.
Like me, she thought it seemed like a great idea from the outset, but when it comes to actually taking the time off she needs (the reason she chose to work from home in the first place) it feels logistical impossible to do. There is no sick pay. Zero. There’s also a lot less compassion from clients when you tell them that you’re going to miss a deadline because you’re mentally unwell.
And that’s if you even have the balls to tell them that you’ve got a mental illness. It’s hard enough to tell one boss, but to announce is to 5, 6 or maybe more individual people who are all paying your wages with no obligation to keep using your services? Nah mate, I’ll keep it under my hat for now.
It’s not just creative freelancers who are feeling the stress. A recent article on Techcrunch.com reported that Deliveroo’s flexible working was comparable to 20th-century dockyards;
where workers would gather around the dock gate desperately hoping that they would be offered work, and where only some workers were fortunate to be offered fairly regular shifts, while others were offered no work at all.
But on page three of her book, Emma Gannon enforces that this is exactly the kind of mentality flexible working is supposed to stamp out. She writes;
Being a multi-hyphenate is about choosing and strategising a plan of attack and having the freedom to take on multiple projects, not being backed into a corner. This is about choosing a lifestyle. This is about taking some power back into our own hands.
Well, that sounds amazing, and although I do feel a lot more in control of my day to day life I can’t help but feeling that I AM still backed into a corner. I’m going through a stage where I’m doing a hell of a lot of work for not much money. I didn’t publicise this when it was published, but you can read my anonymous Money Diary on Refinery 29 to find out the details.
The truth is that I work more now that I ever did when I was a store manager or running the catering facility in a busy tourist attraction. I am working MORE and earning just about enough to get by.
Is this the lifestyle I was looking for? Not quite.