Are we becoming a freelance nation?


Recovery from the recession of 2008 has undoubtedly been fuelled by the rise in non-permanent employment, with more than half of the Eurozone’s young workers now in non-permanent employment according to the Financial Times. The rise in temporary and freelance jobs following a recession is not unusual – employers are understandably cautious whilst waiting for a full economic recovery. However, it is now over three years since Britain left recession, yet temporary and freelance employment continues to rise. Why is this, and what are the factors driving this change?

The UK continues to have one of the most flexible employment markets in the developed world, with practices such as issuing zero-hour contracts remaining legal. However, many of the drivers appear to be led by individuals or companies, rather than regulation:  

  • Disruptive start-ups
    Post-recession business models have changed – many of the world’s most profitable and innovative strive to have few assets and even fewer employees. The classic examples of this are Uber (market valuation of $60bn, more than Ford and General Motors) and AirBnb (market valuation of $24bn) – market leading, high-growth businesses with minimal permanent employees.
  • Short tenure
    Historically, there was a massive difference between permanent and temporary workers’ tenure, however as the average tenure has declined, the differentiation between temporary and permanent work has blurred. Short tenure creates both opportunities (increased workforce flexibility) and challenges (skills and knowledge gaps) and no firms are immune to these changes – Google and Amazon both have average tenure of only 12 months.
  • ‘Supertemps’
    Whilst involuntary non-permanent employment can be a source of anxiety for some, for others, particularly highly skilled, well remunerated contractors and consultants (referred to as ‘Supertemps’ by the Harvard Business Review), non-permanent work has become the preferable form of employment to the more traditional, full-time and permanent employment.

  • House prices
    The seemingly ever rising house prices in metropolitan areas such as London can have a major impact on employment. One major reason why individuals historically favoured permanent work was in order to secure a mortgage, however, with many priced out of buying their own home, more than a quarter of 20 to 34 year olds are still living with their parents. For millenials, persuing higher-paying contract work outweighs the need to have proof of a reliable source of income to show a bank.

  • Short gig marketplaces
    The rise of task and service marketplaces such as and allow individuals to offer their services to a global consumer base on terms that suit them.  This freelance form of employment has proved increasingly popular with now the 475th most visited site globally.

The shift towards non-permanent employment is likely to continue, so employers must consider all worker options when developing their workforce planning strategy. Norma Gillespie, Head of Operations at Resource Solutions says, “We encourage our clients to take a holistic view of their talent management and talent acquisition strategy. By adopting a blended approach of permanent, contractor and consulting talent, our clients can react to fluctuating needs whilst retaining vital knowledge and skills”. Whilst permanent hires remain the preferred choice for many organisations, the changing talent landscape dictates that if companies wish to engage top-tier talent, they must consider all options of classifying and engaging such workers.