How does your work make you feel? As happy as a lark, or depressed as hell with Prozac at the ready? Madi Hanekom asks whether freelancers are more happy at work. Or not.
Being happy at work matters a great deal because of the direct correlation that exists between happiness and performance. Freelancers by definition work for themselves and should therefore arguably be in an ideal position to ensure that they create a work environment conducive to being happy at work. But is this really true?
The Science of Happiness at Work™
The UK-based iOpener Institute for People and Performance conducted extensive research over a number of years and compiled a global database of over 14 000 employees, measuring, in a scientific way, the various factors that make up happiness at work. Over 1 000 South Africans have taken part in the survey.
Jessica Pryce-Jones, Founder and CEO of the Institute, visited South Africa at the end of last month to promote her book and to present a number of master classes on the Science of Happiness at Work.
The Institute uses a questionnaire that measures five components, the 5Cs: Contribution, Conviction, Culture, Commitment and Confidence to determine whether people are happy at work. Its research findings have received widespread coverage in both the world and local media.
In a recent Moneyweb article, Tracey Proudfoot, a director at Stoke (global partner of the iOpener Institute in SA), said: “South Africans achieved the highest score for Commitment (6.24 out of 10), indicating a strong long-term engagement with their work.”
Katie Demain, Happiness at Work consultant at Stoke, further explained: “South Africans have a ‘can do’ attitude … Their work ethic is well known globally and, as a nationality, South Africans are a resilient collective of people who manage organisational change and people dynamics at work quite well.”
And Pryce-Jones stated conclusively: “South Africans score above average on all five components.”
We are therefore a nation with a happier workforce than other countries. Now, that’s an eye-opener!
But what does all of this mean for freelancers?
The happy freelancer
Looking at the five components of Happiness at Work, in my opinion as a freelancer, we have a lot to be happy about:
- Contribution – the effort an individual or team makes.
It’s all about what we do.
A growing number of freelancers are “slashers” who are actively pursuing more than one job (journalist/photographer/proofreader/coach/etc.) in related or non-related fields, offering a portfolio of services and products.
We are participants in the “gig economy”.
Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, coined an interesting term which aptly highlights a growing local and international trend. Instead of having one job, people pursue a number of “gigs”. “No-one I know has a job any more,” wrote Brown on The Daily Beast website. “They’ve got gigs… a bunch of free-floating projects, consultancies, and part-time bits and pieces.”
Contributing to a diverse variety of income generating activities brings its own sense of control, job satisfaction and resultant happiness.
- Conviction – short-term motivation.
Freelancers tend to work mostly from a SOHO (small office, home office) and it can get pretty lonely.
Not having a guaranteed monthly income can also be draining. So, there is a constant pull on emotional, mental, physical and financial resources which affects our ability to continue to work efficiently and effectively.
It’s important to find out what motivates you and make the time to pursue those activities.
The value of belonging to an industry network such as the Southern African Freelancers Association (SAFREA) to keep motivation high and to share information, contacts and job opportunities cannot be overstated.
- Culture – the “fit” between people and their working environment.
What joy not to have to kowtow to somebody else’s organisational values and culture! Being our own bosses allows for tremendous freedom:
We choose our own working hours (night owl, morning glory, afternoon champion?). We decide where we want to work (if the office gets us down, any old restaurant will do). We wear our “corporate outfits” with aplomb (pajamas rule but the little black suit also gets an airing once in a while) and tap into the magic of technology (hello Skype and Google+ ”hangouts”!).
- Commitment -work-related long-term engaged behavior.
Most freelancers have chosen to work for themselves. This already contributes well to achieving a high level of commitment.
We also know from experience that it is not just about doing the work, but understanding that we are engaged in something very worthwhile: adding to the constantly growing body of knowledge and insight on just about any subject matter.
The continuous search for new angles and perfect phrases/photos, all that hectic Googling and interviewing of gurus and semi-gurus until that sigh of satisfaction when the final piece of work is submitted – if that is not engaged, happy behaviour then I don’t know what is!
- Confidence – the belief in our abilities.
Many freelancers tend to have healthy egos (I know, I’m one!) but occasionally we do get knocked about. How to shore up that confidence on a daily basis?
We need to get things done.
We need to have high levels of self-belief about our personal capabilities to perform the required tasks and to achieve stated goals.
We need to understand our roles as freelancers (ensure it matches our initial expectations of it, see where it fits into our overall career plans, and we must really want to do it).
But think about it: as freelancers we’ll never again be on the receiving end of those pesky performance appraisals given by managers who don’t recognise our magnificent contributions to the company’s triple bottom-line.
Happiness is a DIY job
Nobody else but you is going to create your happiness.
If you can also honestly say that you take pride in your work, that you trust that being a freelancer is the right thing for you to do (strategically, logically and emotionally) and that you receive recognition for your achievements (both from within yourself and from external sources), then you are very likely on the right track.
Let’s take the advice which the singer, Bobby McFerrin, offered in 1988: “Don’t worry, be happy!”
Madi Hanekom is a typical “slasher”, offering a varied business portfolio: project management consultant/ freelance journalist/ executive coach and mentor, and is based in Pretoria. She is a member of SAFREA.