September 12, 2001
Workers More Willing to Consider 'Free Agent' Status
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>As layoffs continue to mount and the corporate cocoon begins to look less and less hospitable, Americans say they're increasingly open to alternatives to traditional full-time employment.
That's the conclusion of a just-released nationwide consumer survey on the "free agent" phenomenon, conducted by Market Facts TeleNation, Inc. of Chicago for BridgeGate LLC, a technology recruiter based in Southern California. In the survey, 1,000 Americans were asked whether, if given the option of becoming a `free agent' - that is, freelancing or contracting for a living - would they take it?
According to the report, more than 26 percent would indeed. Fully 11 percent of the sample said they'd consider the free agent option enthusiastically, while another 15 percent said they would with some reservation - joining the 7 percent of respondents who say they are already ensconced in the free agent lifestyle.
Some 36 percent of respondents said they weren't interested in the free agent alternative at this time, and 26 percent said they wouldn't choose that career option under any scenario.
The survey findings come as the nation's jobless rate has hit a nine-year high and the economy continues to sputter. Against that backdrop, the number of Americans opting to work for themselves is on the rise. According to author Daniel H. Pink in Free Agent Nation (Warner Books, 2001), the U.S. labor economy is now home to 3.5 million temps, 16.5 million soloists, and 13 million micro-businesses - a total of some 33 million free agents, or roughly one in four American workers.
Profiles in Free Agency
According to the new survey, 31 percent of those who expressed interest in free agency currently work full time, 28 percent work part-time, and 26 percent are not employed.
In the survey, two contrasting portraits of free agency emerge. The "typical" free agent is a man with kids, age 35-45, highly-skilled and earning at least $75,000 annually - an individual for whom lifestyle, money and making a contribution are more important than security and being on the corporate fast track.
But based on the survey, the prototypical free agent has an alter ego: non-white, younger, with a lesser income, this individual sees going it alone as an opportunity to break through in a climate where job security remains elusive.
Both profiles of free agency share a strong bi-coastal orientation: those in the northeast are most enthusiastic about the prospect of free agency, while the West Coast is home to twice as many free agents already.
The findings at a glance:
- It's a guy thing. According to the survey, men are more interested in the free agent option than women. When taking into account current freelancers, 38 percent of men are open to taking the plunge, against just 28 percent of women.
- It's also a kid thing. When existing free agents are included, 39 percent of respondents with a child in the household are interested in free agency, compared with 29 percent of those without children.
- Free agency - a sign of a mid-life crisis? Those in mid-career - ages 35 to 44 - are most interested in the free agent alternative (38 percent) - a figure that rises to 46 percent when existing free agents are included.
- An option for the affluent... Of those who are currently free agents, more than 50 percent have annual household incomes of at least $75,000.
- ... or for all income brackets. Among respondents who aren't currently free agents, those in the $25,000-50,000 and $50,000-75,000 brackets are most interested in the free agent option (30 percent of each).
- The sweet spot for education. Forty percent those with bachelor's degrees or some college are interested in free agency, versus 26 percent of respondents with a high school diploma or less, and 29 percent of those with postgraduate degrees.
"Even leaving aside those respondents already working for themselves, more than a quarter of the traditional workforce is ready to consider free agency," said Dudley Brown, managing director at BridgeGate. "Our survey serves as a wake-up call to Corporate America - particularly human capital-focused organizations. Given the growing interest in free agency, senior management should be asking itself some hard questions - questions like, 'what message does free agency send to employees?,' 'How do we address the dissatisfaction implicit in workers going it alone?,' and 'How can we attract free agents - and get them to remain within the organization?'
"It's clear from the data that free agency is especially appealing to those whose prospects for advancement within a traditional corporate setting are diminished, either because of age or socio-economic status," Brown said.
The latest survey is the second from BridgeGate this year to point toward a marked shift in attitudes toward free agency among employees. In the spring, the company's third annual Employee Retention Report signaled, in Brown's words, "a decisive move away from corporate paternalism. And that in turn raises a huge issue for employers and employees alike: How do you compete with people who are thinking like free agents?"
The BridgeGate Free Agent survey of 1,000 Americans was conducted in August 2001. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points. For a copy of the survey results, please call 818/719-9299.