Are Freelancers More Motivated Than Employees?

When I tell people that I’m a freelancer and work from home every day, often the first thing they say is, “I don’t know how you motivate yourself!” There seems to be a common belief that working from home or being your own boss means struggling with motivation. But are freelancers really less motivated, or are they more motivated? And how do freelancers motivate themselves? Let’s take a look at motivation…

What motivates employed workers?

A recent study (August 2018) found that 62% of employed workers in the UK are primarily motivated by money. Only 13% of employees surveyed go to work “because they love what they do”. Other motivating factors include reward, recognition for performance, control, business impact, challenging work, good communication, flexibility, and development opportunities.

What motivates freelancers?

Several studies have looked at freelancers’ motivation and all report similar findings. The top cause of motivation for freelancers is commonly “getting to be your own boss” (including not having to report to someone else). The second motivator is work-life balance or flexible working hours. Other motivating factors include earning more money and having more interesting challenges, more freedom, and skills relevant to the work.

So, are freelancers more or less motivated?

While no studies have specifically considered whether freelancers are more or less motivated than employed workers, many have looked at happiness and purpose. A poll by Personal Group found that 70% of self-employed people were happy in their work, while only 48% of employed workers were. Likewise, Likewise, 84% of freelancers find “real purpose” in their work (ReportLinker) and 94% believe it “makes a worthwhile contribution to the world” vs. only 76% of employees.

What do these studies tell us?

Contrary to the common belief that freelancers struggle with motivation, studies show that freelancers are just motivated by different factors—freedom and control, rather than money. There are also common themes for both employees and freelancers: money, control, flexibility, purpose, impact, and challenge. As such, it’s easy to see why freelancers might be more motivated—because they have more control and flexibility, feel a greater sense of purpose, see the impact of their work, and are generally happier than employed workers.

Is this true in real life?

Of course, studies are only ever part of the picture. Anecdotally, the freelancers I know are happier and more motivated than the employed workers, because they choose what they work on and when. On a personal level, I really struggled to be motivated when I worked in employed jobs, due to lack of control, interest, flexibility, and work-life balance. My main motivator for dragging myself into the office was the monthly wage. As a freelancer, I have control, choose work I’m interested in, and manage my hours flexibly to fit around my life.

Why do people believe freelancers aren’t motivated?

Often, when people say “I don’t know how you motivate yourself”, what they mean is “I don’t know how you have the discipline to make yourself do the work”. The implication is that if someone (your boss, or your employer) isn’t there to make you do the work, then you won’t. However, the difference with freelancing is that most freelancers love the work they do and want to do it. Discipline is less of an issue when you’re directly responsible for earning the money, delivering the work, and satisfying the client.

How can freelancers motivate themselves more?

Occasionally, I meet a freelancer who isn’t feeling very motivated. Often, this is because they’re not earning enough, are doing work that doesn’t interest them, aren’t being challenged, or are working too much. In these cases, I suggest trying to find an area of interest, trying a new challenge, reducing working hours, or setting rewards for doing the work. By rewards, this doesn’t necessarily mean material objects, but treating yourself to an experience (such as a massage or day out)—or linking it to a goal such as going on holiday.

If you’re a freelancer, do you struggle with motivation or find yourself more motivated than in employed jobs? Comment below or get in touch.

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