66% of British businesses hire freelance staff because of their specific expertise

31 May 2018

London, 31 May 2018. Despite the fact that 95% of businesses employ freelancers, a little more than 1 in 3 organisations have a formal strategy in place to bring the priorities of this new workforce in line with the objectives of the business. These results come from the latest survey conducted across five European countries by HR services provider SD Worx and Antwerp Management School. The two organisations investigated the contributing factors driving the flexibilisation of the labour market and how businesses are approaching the issue. The survey found that the majority of companies report that at least 10% of their current workforce to be made up of self-employed workers, highlighting an urgent need for businesses to change the way they manage non-permanent employees.

Businesses crave flexibility

Across five European countries, the most important reason for businesses hiring freelance staff is flexibility, with 65% claiming this to be the deciding factor when taking on new employees. Interestingly, the second most popular reason for businesses hiring self-employed staff is the specific expertise that they provide, according to 63% of respondents. In Germany (62%), The Netherlands (63%) and the UK (66%), this is actually the number one reason why organisations hire non-permanent workers, ahead of the flexibility that it provides them with. Speed and cost are also major drivers with 43% of the UK decision-makers claiming that it is quicker than posting a job vacancy, while 36% referenced lower cost as a decisive factor.

Employers are neglecting workforce planning

Considering that freelancers now constitute a significant proportion of the workforce, the fact that 65% take an informal approach to workforce planning should be alarming.

"As businesses hire more and more self-employed staff, they need to ensure that their HR policies are constantly being adapted to suit the needs of this new workforce," comments Jeremy Campbell, Chief Commercial Officer at SD Worx UK & Ireland. "Today too many businesses are taking a reactive or ad hoc approach to the Gig Economy which will prove damaging in the long-term. A failure to adapt will cause areas like talent management to become a huge challenge for organisations, especially as their focus is turning on hiring highly skilled freelance staff. The nature of the workforce is changing with every day that passes - yesterday's policies will no longer suffice." 

Flexible workers motivated by more interesting work  

In order to develop effective HR policies that help to manage the freelance workforce, decision-makers need to understand the motivations behind people choosing to be self-employed. For 61% of the UK respondents the main reason to become self-employed is that the job content is more interesting, while 62% claim that this style of work is a better match for their competencies. In addition to these workplace benefits, there are also several personal reasons why people choose self-employment. 

Almost half (49%) claimed non-permanent work suits their personal life better though this figure varies quite dramatically from country to country. Workers in the UK are the biggest advocates of self-employment benefiting their personal life, 79% claiming this to be reason number one for their decision; France follows on 69%. However, in Belgium motivations are very different, with only 52% of respondents claiming that they choose freelance work because it benefits their personal life. There are also stark differences between the nationalities when it comes to attitudes towards stress. Whereas 39% of freelancers in the UK believe this style of work reduces stress in their lives, only 23% of Belgians agree.

On an international level, these self-employed workers are positive and forward-thinking. Of the respondents, 41% actively spend time improving their knowledge and skill set for work and 56% even develop skills that they will only require in future roles.

Businesses face problems attracting new talent

A little less than half (45%) of organisations in all countries surveyed believe that they will have no problems in attracting new talent in the next three years. One in three anticipate a shortage in internal talent within the organisation to achieve their mission, vision and strategy in the next three years. In today's business landscape, where the talent market is increasingly competitive, it is going to be more important than ever for organisations to find solutions to these talent issues. Taking a proactive approach towards flexible workers is one answer. The research unveils that those organisations facing a high turnover rate are already taking this road. These independent professionals can be a great asset for businesses, as long as employers proactively consider this often overlooked group within their organisation.

"Over the next three years 55% of businesses believe that they will have a problem attracting new talent. Additionally, one in three businesses believe this talent shortage will impact their ability to achieve their mission, vision and strategy. In today's landscape, where the talent market is so competitive, it is going to be more important than ever for organisations to find solutions to these hiring issues. Taking a positive approach towards flexible workers is one answer and is an approach that the research tells us is being taken by organisations with higher turnovers. These employees can be a great asset for businesses, as long as employers take a proactive approach to their management" Professor Ans De Vos, Antwerp Management School concludes. 

About the survey

The current study set out to explore both the employer and individual perspective upon flexible talent within five European countries. It fits within the research agenda set by SD Worx and Antwerp Management School (AMS) for the SD Worx Chair on "Next Generation Work: Creating Sustainable Careers". Since 2011, as part of this chair research is being conducted on the changing career context, and what this implies for organisations and for the workforce. Through yearly surveys and qualitative studies we keep track of the people challenges the VUCA context brings along, the changing career and talent policies within organisations in response to these challenges, and the ways in which individuals are dealing with their careers.

SD Worx and AMS surveyed (1) a representative sample of 1.074 employers and (2) a representative sample of 1.874 independent workers in the following five countries: Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Potential respondents were contacted using an online panel, with sampling based on size and industry for the employer survey and age and gender for the independent professional survey.

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