The Rise of the Independent Work Force

This is a replay of a post that ran on The New York Times website, Saturday, April 14, 2012.

In the last month, I’ve worked for five employers, bid on three projects, been a member of two virtual teams and participated in a conference call in the middle of the night. I am 36 years old and a 21st-century employee.

Sally Ryan for The New York Times

Alexandra Levit started her own workplace consulting business in 2004.

I started my business as a workplace consultant in 2004, and since then I have seen more people take a similar employment path. A government report in 2006 said that 31 percent of the American work force was independent or contingent, a category that encompasses contractors, temporary workers and the self-employed, among others.

Although more recent government data is not available, companies clearly relied on contingent workers during the last recession as a way to keep costs down. And, amid a fragile recovery, hiring full-time employees remains expensive and risky for many. Add the fact that technology makes working off-site easier than ever, and contingent workers are a force that’s here to stay.

A strong part of me is thrilled with this. I generally like being a contingent worker. I’m a self-disciplined go-getter with two children, ages 1 and 4, so I enjoy having the independence to do what I need to do when I need to do it.

But, to be honest, I’m also tired. Tired of having to sell myself to a new client every week. Tired of worrying if I will earn enough in a year to cover child care and household expenses. And tired of dealing with the administrative and tax problems that inevitably crop up with self-employment. Another part of me yearns for the predictability, social outlets and built-in networking opportunities of previous jobs at big companies.

Patti Johnson can relate. After 15 years in leadership at Accenture, she decided to start PeopleResults, a human resources consulting firm in Dallas. The ability to have more control over her life and to create a business with intriguing assignments appealed to her, but it took two years to make the leap. “I was coming out of a big firm with assistants, tools and resources to solve anything,” she says, “so the need to be totally self-sufficient was a shock to the system.”

She also missed the camaraderie of a larger organization. “I need the energy that comes from collaboration,” she says. “There’s comfort in getting a team together to help a client or build a new relationship.” This wish would lead her to add 15 consultants to her business.

Read more here.

Alexandra Levit is a business/workplace author, speaker and columnist. She helps people find meaningful work and succeed once they get there. You can subscribe to her blog or follow her on Twitter.