Have “Steady Jobs” Become Too Risky?

This guest post is by Tom Mangan, a former newspaper journalist who now (happily!) works as a freelance writer and editor.

The same people who diversify their retirement savings across hundreds or even thousands of companies barely bat an eyelash at betting their livelihood on the fate of a single employer. Does this really make sense?

Folks with full-time jobs may fancy themselves as more secure than those who are “self-employed,” but it’s a convenient self-delusion. (Alas, it’s one the banks share, as even successful entrepreneurs learn when they decide to apply for a home loan.) We’re all self-employed — we trade our labor for the cash people are willing to give us to do the work.

A full-time job offers certainty and security right up to the second it goes away. When you’re cut off from your revenue source, the folly of selling all your labor to a single customer becomes painfully obvious. It turns into a cruel irony when you start cashing in your diversified retirement account because you failed to diversity your current revenue.

Most people don’t learn the error of these ways until it’s too late. Worse yet, if business was bad enough in your industry to get you canned, you’ll have a painfully hard time finding more work because of all your pals who’ve been laid off, and you’ll probably end up taking on a new job at considerably lower pay just to keep some cash coming in.

All this could’ve been avoided if you’d thought to diversify. The problem is that most companies do not want their workers to think of themselves as craftspeople swapping skills for cash. Companies picture themselves as benefactors to their workforces, though all they’re really doing is bribing people to swap autonomy for security.

Lately we’ve been hearing talk of the “gig economy,” where people’s careers are defined by a series of short-term projects rather than long-time jobs. Employers offer gigs for the same reason nightclubs hire different bands for different nights of the week. Different crowds mean different tastes, and club owners hire accordingly.

The great thing about gigs is that they are much easier to find than jobs. Lots of companies need somebody for 40 hour a week over the next six weeks, or somebody for an hour or two a day over the next 12 months. Considerably fewer companies want to hire a full-timer, and when the economy’s slow, they can hire from a pile of resumes as thick as a dictionary.

If gigs are easy to get and jobs are hard to get, why do so many of us obsess over the availability of jobs, but gloss over the the possibilities of gigs? Maybe because it’s easier think in terms of the known quantity of a job vs. the unknown quality of a gig.

The uncertainties are many, of course, and the road can be long and hard for those who go indie and work from one project to the next. But think about this: if you have four clients hiring you and one of them goes broke, you’ve still got the other three to keep some cash coming in.

When you lose a job, you’ve got zero cash coming in. Think about that if all your eggs are in your employer’s basket — or if your basket is already empty.


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  • http://ashtabulacurrent.com William West

    Mr. Mangan’s column is right on the money. Being a former newspaper photojournalist/journalist myself, I know the danger of relying on a sole employee in a struggling industry. I was laid off after 16 years of devoting my heart and soul to the company. My prospect of being hired for a full time position at another newspaper was between very slim and none, but now there was time to pursue my dream of creating my own news outlet. And create it I did. Visit ashtabulacurrent.com for work provided by Wwest News Service (WNS).

  • Jeanne Marie

    This makes perfect sense to me. My mother-in-law owned a restaurant, and my father-in-law owns a gardening business. I realized long ago that neither ever had to worry about losing their jobs, just individual clients or customers. Now that I have lost my job and become a freelancer, I feel that my future is in my own hands and not subject to one employer’s whim to reorg the company. This is where I’m staying! (Of course, it’s a luxury to have a husband with an employer and benefits.)