Why More Millennials are Going Independent

By MBO Partners | October 8, 2016

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Long recognized as a force in popular culture and media, Millennials are increasingly asserting themselves as they age into the full-time workforce. But this burgeoning independent population is different from their older counterparts in several distinct ways.

As of 2015, this group surpassed Baby Boomers to become the second largest independent worker generation after Generation X. Already the largest generation in the overall workforce, the Millennials currently make up 30% of the total independent population and will likely pass Gen X and become the largest independent worker generation within the next 2 years. Here are 7 traits and facts that help explain the rise of Millennial Independents:

1. Independence is attractive

Full-Time Millennials (21 to 35 in our 2015 State of Independence report) have grown from 1.9 million in 2011 to 5.35 in 2015, a nearly three-fold increase, surging from just 12% of the full-time independent workforce in 2011 to 30% in 2015. Millennials are attracted to independent work for a variety of reasons.

2. Millennials thrive in creative fields

Millennial entrepreneurs go (and stay) independent for different reasons than their older colleagues, seeing independent work as a way to make a difference in the world. They are familiar with technology, which opens up a range of new work opportunities – including those in the creative field.

For example, 1 in 5 Millennial entrepreneurs who are Full-Time Independents self-describe as creative professionals (think graphic design, writers and photographers), compared with only 1 in 10 of non-Millennial Full-Time Independents.

3. Millennials are ambitious

61% of Millennial independents plan to stay independent either as solopreneurs (40%) or in order to build a bigger business (21%).

Despite these positive overall numbers, many more Millennials (29%) plan to seek traditional jobs over the next two years than non-Millennials (12%). This finding can likely be ascribed to younger workers’ relative lack of work experience and limited professional networks.

4. Millennials take challenges in stride

Millennials entrepreneurs consistently report being more challenged by independent work than other age groups do. These challenges include a lack of predictable income (reported by 57% of Millennials, compared with 48% of non-Millennials), a lack of job security (48% for Millennials, 28% for non Millennials) and concerns about benefits (46% for Millennials, 30% for non-Millennials).

5. Finding full-time work is difficult

Millennials are the age cohort whose job prospects were most harmed by the Great Recession, and they are still feeling its effects disproportionately. One out of 4 Millennial independent workers is pursuing independent work because he or she can’t find traditional employment, 31% said they left jobs they were unhappy with, and 19% did so because they lost jobs. Millennials are also more likely to turn to temporary/on-call work (16%, compared with 8% for non-Millennials) and fixed contract work (21%, compared with 9% for non-Millennials). In both of these types of work, satisfaction ratings and a sense of personal control are typically lower than in other types of independent work.

These factors help explain why 19% of Millennials have a higher comparative dissatisfaction rate with independent work; more than double the 8% of non-Millennials who say they’re dissatisfied.

6. Work-life balance is a benefit

Still, independent work fits well with the Millennials’ desire to “work to live.” Rather than balancing work and life, younger Americans are looking to integrate the two into one interesting journey where they present the same “self” in all aspects of life. This impulse is evident in Millennials’ persistent and pervasive use of social media to document both work and personal events seamlessly. To Millennials, events at work ARE their personal events.

More and more members of older generations are adopting Millennials “work to live” mentality for themselves, finding that setting priorities for work-life balance lowers stress, increases happiness, and doesn’t (necessarily) decrease earning potential.

Want more? Read the full State of Independence

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