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Does freelance flexibility pay off?

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One of the most read FT articles of 2022 is a column titled “How to Handle a Narcissist in the Workplace.” Turns out, a lot of us want to figure out the secret to dealing with a terrible boss. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t read Michael Skapinker’s excellent article: in many cases, the best thing to do is leave. Don’t expect a narcissist to change.

Narcissism is a particularly corrosive problem to deal with, but your manager doesn’t have to conform to the clinical definition of a narcissist to make your life a misery. Those of us who are both managers and managers understand how difficult it is on both sides. We are all imperfect (hello to the patient members of my team who appreciate my insights but dislike my lack of attention to detail). Management is an impossible thing to do well all the time, no matter how pure your intentions.

There are many reasons why it is often impossible to leave a bad boss. I once stayed far too long in a job where the team leader’s micromanaging behavior made me sick. I thought I could handle it, but the negative impact on my career and mental health lasted for years.

So I’m looking forward to seeing how others fare better – what can we do to resolve unsolvable issues with our managers or colleagues?

We’ll be recording an episode of Working It on toxic work dynamics and using your experiences and questions to inform our discussion. Please email your thoughts to me at isabel.berwick@ft.com.

Read on to learn more from Sophia about the delicate dilemma workers face, caught between the security of a full-time job and the flexibility of the ever-growing gig economy.

See you next week. Contact me or reply to this email with your thoughts and feedback on today’s newsletter.

Join the former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and many more at our first American festival FTWeekend in Washington, DC this Saturday. As a newsletter subscriber, you can claim an exclusive, limited-time offer of 50 percent on your pass using the promo code FTNewslettersxFTWF22.


The hidden disadvantages of freelancing

Skilled freelancing (i.e. services like scheduling and marketing rather than Uber driving) is becoming a growing part of the gig economy. From 2019 to 2021, freelancers offering qualified services increased by 8%.

Satisfied freelancers enjoy greater flexibility and control over their careers, and younger workers have come to view freelance work – with its potential for diverse clients and sources of income – as more stable than a full-time job, according to Fast Company’s recent conversation with Upwork CEO Hayden Brown. . Yet nearly 40% of freelancers say they prefer having a traditional job, according to a survey by freelancing platform Upwork. Many skilled professionals opt for freelance gigs not because they’re running towards something, but because they’re running away.

A BambooHR survey found that the top reasons people quit their jobs were dissatisfaction, mental health, poor pay, or unethical leadership. Additionally, Harvard Business School found that 32% of workers quit their jobs because they had to prioritize custodial responsibilities. If these working conditions improved, would we still see highly skilled workers flocking to freelance platforms?

The freelance lifestyle is not out of the box with benefits such as a healthcare plan and family leave, raising the stakes for would-be freelancers. Is the flexibility of the freelancer so attractive that these benefits are worth giving up? Or is the full-time job just dismal enough to justify it? Freelancers are also missing out on “soft” perks like free office snacks, subsidized gym memberships, and corporate discount programs.

For executives, the use of freelancers could offer economic benefits. Three in five business leaders said they would increasingly prefer to ‘rent’, ‘borrow’ or ‘share’ talent, and their full-time staff would be reduced as a result. Harvard Business School respondents cited lower costs, such as expenses associated with health care plans, sick leave, vacations and training. Additionally, managers who are moving towards a more independent business model believe they are giving workers the flexibility they want. But why does “flexibility” translate so easily to “hourly worker without benefits”?

Many workers get what they need from the labor economy: the flexibility to choose their own times and places, the control and autonomy to choose their own projects, and the leeway to devote their energies to the responsibilities of guarding. But a better future exists in which full-time employees also benefit from these conditions. Workers shouldn’t have to choose between stability and flexibility — we deserve the best of both worlds. (Sophie Smith)

Do you prefer to be employed full-time or self-employed? Or maybe you enjoy taking gigs as a side hustle outside of your day job? Let us know by taking our survey..


Listen: The war back in the office

The fight between bosses and workers over returning to the office will likely be the big story of the summer in the workplace. Occupancy in many buildings is far from 100%, even on days when staff are mandated.

This week on the Working It podcast, I’m talking to my colleague Josh Chaffin about the best design and office perks. We wonder if a stellar workspace (with or without ice cream and coffee carts) will be enough to attract reluctant staff.

We also hear Rick Cook, an architect who brings nature indoors — “biophilia” is the term — to create workspaces that engage all of our senses and enhance well-being. Rick is a fan of meeting on foot and says the best offices should have large, open stairs to facilitate chance encounters.

Next week, we’ll talk about post-pandemic business travel. It’s back (big time) – but given the climate emergency and the ease of virtual meetings, can we really justify flying to a conference? (Isabelle Berwick)


Elsewhere in the world of work:

  1. Eat your own dog food: Using your own product or service, aka “dogfooding”, has been common in software development for decades. Today, the practice is found in all sorts of employee initiatives for executives and workers to spend time in front-line roles, like answering customer service calls or hitting the road as a driver- delivery man.

  2. Just say “no” to office tasks: Women are more likely to be asked – and more likely to say yes – to “unpromoted” professional tasks, such as arranging for a colleague to leave. A new book, The Non-Clubexplores how women can manage this gender issue and how managers can address it more equitably at the organizational level.

  3. How to lead: Peter Kern was suddenly thrust into the helm of Expedia after his predecessor’s abrupt departure in 2019. Months later, he found himself leading the travel company through the turmoil of the pandemic. He’s found that the best way to keep staff on his side is “to be upfront with your people about how you feel.”

  4. Silence is golden: It’s okay to be quiet in meetings, writes Pilita Clark. Some of the smartest people and most powerful leaders rarely speak in business meetings. They wait until they actually have something valuable to add – and when they do, everyone listens.

  5. Job search tips: If you’re losing faith in a fruitless job search, advice columnist Jonathan Black advises finding someone in your area to help you strategize, find informational interviews, target organizations that interest you, and remember to invest in personal and family resources. time to maintain morale.


Gabriella Braun, psychoanalytic coach for business leaders, responded to last week’s newsletter asking for advice on how to combat loneliness at work with this thoughtful observation:

Loneliness is such an important topic and “resilience building” so inadequate as an answer. This angers me because it suggests the problem is with the employee, not the organization. It is a way of externalizing the responsibility of the organization.

Loneliness causes significant damage to mental and physical health, so start by taking it seriously and putting mental health at the center of the workplace.

Fighting loneliness also means considering our workplaces as communities. This means making sure to build community, for example by assigning staff to projects based on building community, not just on competence and professional development.

And let us know. . .

Just before a draft notice was leaked on Monday revealing the likelihood of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, Amazon announced it would reimburse employees for travel expenses incurred to have abortions at the out of state. At the risk of getting into a culture war, companies may think it’s worth taking a stand.

Do you think companies should take a stand on social issues? Why or why not?

For a future story, I’m also interested in hearing about your experiences. Has access to abortion (or lack thereof) affected your life or career? You can share your stories with me at sophia.smith@ft.com (and let me know if you want anonymity).

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