Is This Proof Freelancing Is Killing the 40-Hour Workweek?

A freelancing mother and father working at the breakfast table with their son
Freelancing parents working at the breakfast table with their young child |

With much hullabaloo about “secure scheduling,” gig economies, contract work, and redefinitions of what it means to be a “full-time” employee, it can be difficult to know just where you stand in regards to your status in the American labor force. But since most of us need jobs to pay the rent and everything else, we do what we can to make it work. Sometimes that means holding down more than one job. It might mean driving for Uber on the weekends. Or, as is becoming more and more frequent, it might mean becoming a freelancer.
Freelancing, traditionally, has been the realm of creatives — writers, graphic artists, and designers, for example, all are known to work on a freelance basis. But freelancing is exploding, and if current trends continue, it’s not too far-fetched to think that it may become a permanent new way to facilitate a career.
Take this simple factoid, for starters: Between 2000 and 2014, freelancing is up a whopping 500%. That comes via a new study put out by Paychex.
“The U.S. freelance economy has grown rapidly in recent years to approximately 53 million freelancers, or around 1 in every 3 working Americans. Forget the 9-to-5 life: Many of today’s freelancers are motivated by the promise of freedom, flexibility, and autonomy rather than corporate benefits and job security,” the Paychex team said.
“To glean valuable insights about freelancing in the U.S. today, Paychex analyzed over 400,000 freelancers’ resumes posted on job site”

It’s never been a better time to be a freelancer

For visual confirmation, here is a graph from the Paychex brief:

Growth of the freelance economy
Growth of the freelance economy | Paychex

It’s evident that freelancing is becoming much more popular. But it’s not just freelance work — there have been big bumps in the number of contract workers that many firms are utilizing too. While they’re not one in the same, there is some overlap there; many freelancers are apt to jump on the occasional contract job, after all.
And this is all a part of the “gig economy,” which has been growing in recent years as well. This includes Silicon Valley darlings like Uber, which doesn’t actually employ its armies of drivers, but rather, utilizes them as independent contractors. It’s a “gig,” in that sense, for these drivers. They’re not actually employed by the company.
It’s all an indication that there are some large economic shifts happening in America. Gone are the days where you’re apt to work for a single company for decades. Instead, today’s workers are more likely to job-hop their way to a raise or promotion, and as we’re seeing in the data, even strike out on their own rather than sign on to a full-time job. Does this mean the death of the 40-hour work week is upon us?
Not necessarily, but it does look like things are due to change in the future.

Freelancing as a viable career?

A man working from his home desk
A man working from his home desk |

One thing to take into account is that many jobs are going to be phased out of the workforce in coming decades. Due to technological advances, including automation programs and artificial intelligence, there are a lot of career fields that are more or less set for extinction. But those jobs are mostly in fields that don’t require special skill sets — that is, people with specialized training, including creative training, should be set for the time being.
And as those changes happen, freelancing might become an even more popular path as people get shuffled around the workforce, or forced to retrain and learn skills that might allow them to enter the freelance and gig economies. This is still a ways off, but it’s not too much of a stretch to think that some truck drivers could ultimately end up becoming freelance website designers or graphic artists.
Here are some of the major skill sets associated with freelancing that Paychex identified:
Freelance skills | Paychex

The societal and economic changes we’re talking about here are going to happen over the course of a couple of generations, though, and it’s not going to be painless. We’re already seeing a lot of that pain surface at the present time, with many people frustrated in a new economy that has seemingly left them behind. Is killing the idea of a 40-hour workweek a solution to that, and thinking of an individual as their own business a superior model?
Right now, there’s no answer. But we’re seeing small changes that, in aggregate, will lead to a very different economic picture in the future. The boom in freelance work, along with the growing gig economy, are just a part of it.
See the entire Paychex brief here.
Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger