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.
Hey Fiona, I really appreciate your honesty on this one. Reminds me of a Russell Beans sketch where he talks about not being able to take a holiday for ourselves. It’s a hard call and it sounds like the grass isn’t always greener. Does having a set routine on your terms help at all? I know I like routine to help my anxiety and I think we’re I to work from home, I might have to create one x
No I respond really badly to routine! My mental health is so unpredictable that I kind of have to wait and see how I feel everyday. My version of a routine just sticking to 3 things I need to do each day without overloading my to do list but it’s very hard when you need to pay the bills!!
I’m just getting started in the world of blogging for pretty much the exact same reason – working with such unpredictable mental health is unsustainable. This resonated quite a bit, since I’m working full-time out side of the house and then nearly full-time at home just trying to earn my first dollar. Flexible? Yeah, sort of. More free time? Not a chance.
I have read your post it gives me lesson of routine.
offtopic, but I saw your article in metro about secret veganism, haha. I wanted to tell you the best response I ever heard when some jackass was dumping an out of the blue interrogation on this vegan girl and looking for a fight, lol. “You know, I just don’t want to rely on animals, fuck animals, I do my own thing”. I’m paraphrasing , because I’m pretty sure my brain broke and was incapable of forming rigid memories because I was so awstruck at a masterful social awkwardness shut down. This was on a bus! to work! Pretty much a defused hostage situation. anyways, stay peachy
I was just diagnosed with depression and anxiety, although, I have had these symptoms for many years. I am having a hard time now driving and having to leave my home. I have four children and desperately need to work. Is there any advice on what my first step may be to find something that I could do from home? I hate the fact that my children have to go without because of me.
I’m likely going to quit my job very soon, I haven’t been to college since November and I’ve just been given a week off at work to get ‘better’, but all this time off has supposedly made me so much worse, and nothing seems to be getting and perkier! This adds to my belief that I simply can’t function in this world; I can’t work, I cant hand in assignments on time, and i struggle to stick to any routine at home.
The two things that have gotten me through the days these past few years have been cooking/baking, and exercise, such as yoga and running. This gives me comfort as it could be a starting point for me to reconstruct another foundation of a career, as my current one seems to be so incredibly destroying to my mental health.
I love your blog, I only discovered it yesterday whilst scanning the internet for a few sentences to make me feel a bit better about this inability to work or just about do anything to function normally! You’re another piece of sunshine in someone’s day, for sure. Thank you for inspiring!