Is the UK Becoming a Free Agent Nation?

Business Show 2013,
Me presenting to current and future free agents and micro business owners at the Business Show, London Olympia

I am fascinated and excited about the increase in business start-ups and general trend towards entrepreneurialism within the UK.

As reported by Enterprise Nation, in 2013 alone 500,000 new businesses were formed and with 4.9 million businesses trading in the UK, 12% of the working population are their own boss.

What I find even more interesting is that the image that many of us have, regarding what a small business looks like is probably quite different to the reality; many are sole traders, working from home, running their business on a part-time basis and most plan to grow through the use of subcontractors as opposed to permanent employees and costly overheads such as office space. You can find more details in Enterprise Nation’s Quarterly Small Business survey results.

What we are actually seeing is a phenomenal rise in micro businesses  and what  Daniel Pink termed a ‘Free Agent Nation’ in his book entitled Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself.  A free agent’s encompass the self-employed, independent contractors, temporary workers and micro businesses. Although written in 2001 and based on America, the book has some really interesting points that I think mirror the UK’s own rapidly growing free agent nation.

In my endeavour to understand the trend a little more I read Daniel Pink’s book a couple of weeks ago, I found it quite insightful and wanted to share 3 key takeaway’s with you:

1.       The ‘organisation man’ is no longer the ideal

Yes being a high-level executive in a fortune 500 is still a well-respected and highly sought after career path but people don’t view it as the utopia they once did. An ‘organisation man’ is defined as someone who lets his individuality and personal life be dominated by the organisation he serves, this is often the reality for many in high-paid, high-level corporate employees. An increase number of the population is realising that they would rather have freedom, autonomy, financial freedom and quality of life and becoming a free agent is often the answer.

2.       Money is no longer the measure of success

As Dan Pink puts it; “As prosperity widens and as the expectation of comfort becomes the default assumption … money matters less in determining individual satisfaction and personal notions of success …a wealth of psychological studies have concluded that satisfaction is not for sale.

Free agents care about money and indeed many of them make a lot of money, but what motivates them to go down the free agent route is rarely about money. Increasingly many feel that in order to reach true self-actualisation and be free, it is necessary to transcend the confines of an organisation and step out on their own.

3.       The nature of loyalty has changed

In an economy where many senior executives lose their  jobs with increased regularity and  employee churn much higher now than in days past, the difference in perceived risk between a full-time job and self-employment is not as vast as it’s once was. In fact many free agents perceive self-employment as the safer bet. As job security has eroded so has loyalty.

As Dan Pink states; Investing all your human capital in a single company makes as little sense as investing all your financial capital in shares of IBM…diversify or die.

Free agents hedge their bets and tend to work for many companies as opposed to one. The job for life no longer exists and in addition, staying with one company for too long is seen as more of a negative than a positive as it raises questions as to how well a professional can adapt to a new environment.

For these reasons vertical loyalty (loyalty to one company or one leader) has weakened and horizontal loyalty (loyalty to colleagues past and present, teams and groups) has strengthened.

If you haven’t already read Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself I recommend it as it paints a very interesting picture of the changing world of work. If you’re a free agent or planning to become one I’d be really interested in hearing your views so feel free to leave your comments below.

Speak soon,

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