Markel Direct, the specialist insurer of the self-employed and small businesses, have spoken to a range of experts from a historian to a futurologist, in order to provide an in-depth analysis of what the current job market can tell us for the future of the self-employed in the wake of the so-called ‘Great Resignation’.
The UK job market as a whole is in the midst of a period of great change, as workers’ priorities have shifted over the last two years and many businesses are starting to bounce back from the impact of Covid. However in this post-pandemic world, the ongoing economic trend of employees leaving their roles en-masse for greener pastures poses an interesting challenge and begs the question what could the future of employment look like.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), job moves hit a record high of 988,000 in the last quarter of 2021, with the organisation suggesting the bulk of these were driven by resignation rather than dismissal. Data from polling company Ipsos earlier this year also found that nearly half of British workers had actively thought about leaving their jobs over the previous three months.
On the flip side, analysis of Companies House data found that 340,534 businesses were registered between January and June last year, compared to 257,243 during the same period in 2019; representing a rise of 32% and suggesting that many of those leaving their roles may be moving towards setting up their own business.
In order to understand how the current state of the job market may influence the future of the self-employed sphere, Markel Direct spoke to five experts each giving a unique perspective on the working world.
Among those Markel Direct spoke to were Historian Calum Bannerman, Life Coach Carole Ann-Rice, Entrepreneur Eloise Skinner, Futurologist Dr Ian Pearson and Divisional Director of Markel Direct Rob Rees.
According to Bannerman, the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting ‘Great Resignation’ are somewhat of a historical anomaly. He told Markel Direct that traditionally you would expect periods of economic boom to result in an increase in resignation, not periods of uncertainty such as a pandemic.
However, Bannerman believes that the reason we are seeing the opposite is due to our higher levels of wealth and health relative to historic pandemics. He went on to add: “The Great Resignation may signal the end of ‘the job’ era – in which people were expected to work for big businesses for a lifetime. For most of human history, people have, in contrast, been essentially self-employed.”
This sentiment was echoed by Ann-Rice, who argues the pandemic has influenced many people’s definition of success, encouraging them to reconsider their relationship to work and how they can balance it with other aspects of their lives.
She believes that the growing number of people striking out on their own right now to be their own boss is because ‘since the pandemic people can see how hard their lives were before – little family time, stress and no work-life balance.’ According to her, while there are a number of downsides to carefully consider, few people regret going freelance and generally seem happier.
However, people should carefully consider what it is they want out of their working life before making that switch to freelancer, Skinner advises. She argues that while the freedom self-employment offers can sound great it’s important to remember it can also be incredibly challenging.
“It takes a lot to stay motivated when you don’t have a team around you” Skinner cautions, although she does believe that being in charge of your own company can help you stay more connected to the purpose of your work, something she thinks is harder when you are just one small piece in a wider company structure.
But what exactly does the future look like for the self-employed sphere? Well according to Dr Pearson, we can expect to see this ongoing churn of freelancers continue as more and more people reconsider what they want from their working lives and where their priorities lie.
And as more people turn towards working for themselves we may see a greater variety of ‘self-employed’ positions. The futurologist believes we will see an increase in people working in the ‘care economy’ for example, which rely more on human based skills and emotive skills and incorporates everything from craft and design experts to gardeners and housekeepers.
Although he adds that AI and technology advances will change how many people do their jobs, both self-employed and employees as the more technical skills of a role will be taken over by machines and workers will instead focus solely on the interpersonal elements of their role.
Rob Rees, Divisional Director of Markel Direct, believes the new ways of working introduced by the pandemic present new opportunities not only in the way freelancers work, but also where they work from.
“The last two years has seen widespread adoption of remote working and video meetings in businesses of all sizes, many of which did not use this technology prior to 2020.
“Freelancers will enjoy even greater flexibility to live and work where they choose. This will apply to those who seek a lifestyle change – for example, living in a more rural part of the country. However, it also applies to those looking for adventure; with international travel opened up, we expect to see growth in the number of ‘digital nomads’ who combine travelling to different locations with working from coffee shops, co-working hubs and hotels.”
You can read each of the experts’ full opinions and predictions for the future here.