On Precarious Work

According to LinkedIn, my profile is of ‘All Star’ quality. Before you close this tab and think I’m terrible, I have a reason for sharing this information. While I have strong communications experience, a list of endorsed skills, positive recommendations and a first class degree, what LinkedIn won’t tell you, and what I often feel hesitant to admit, is that my career to date has been made up of lots of temporary work.

Since I graduated in 2015 I have worked a series of fixed-term contracts. After a ten month long charity graduate programme I moved on to rolling three month and six month contracts with the same organisation for almost two years. In April 2018 I moved organisations to take up a seven month maternity cover position. Although I am enjoying the role and fulfilling its responsibilities to a high standard, the organisation’s small size means it is likely I will be job hunting again at the end of this year.

These experiences have shown me that temporary and part-time work can present opportunities, including:

  • Working on a variety of projects
  • Managing one project from start to finish
  • Testing out skills in new areas
  • Building relationships with multiple organisations
  • Learning to adapt well in different working environments
  • Meeting new people
  • Flexible hours and locations
  • Being able to do other things on the side – a Master’s degree, writing and running this website, in my case

This last point is the focus of Emma Gannon’s new book, The Multi-Hyphen Method. Whether you are committed to following one career track, looking to dabble in other projects or an established freelancer, I recommend reading it.

Questioning the nature and future of work is another thread that runs throughout the book. Precarious work is on the rise, but it still feels strange, shameful even, to admit that I don’t have a permanent contract. Positive messages around freelancing, entrepreneurship and taking on those extra hyphens (Project Manager-Writer-Baker, for instance) can overlook those of us who would like to have steady employment and the security that provides.

At a basic level, it is easier to manage uncertainty and do good work with a stable foundation. I am fortunate to live with my partner in a mortgaged flat and to have a support network of family and friends relatively close to home. I live in a coastal town within commuting distance of Brighton and, at a push, London (though this would not be possible full-time).

Without these personal circumstances, precarious work would be unmanageable. Even with these privileges, I don’t have the luxury of relaxing, of knowing what comes next. I work hard and enthusiastically to put myself in a strong position for potential job openings. I budget carefully, saving for future plans and possible gaps in employment. I stay focused.

While fixed-term contracts and project-based work have advantages, holding multiple jobs or switching jobs frequently is not the desired situation for many. The Multi-Hyphen Method suggests that these ways of working will become more common, so perhaps it is better to be an early adopter.

Hypothetically, I like the idea of being a freelance communications manager. I’m good at managing my time, I can work efficiently and remotely, and I enjoy getting to know different organisations. However, I value being part of a team. I don’t think I would enjoy the pressure of constantly finding new contracts. The thought of not knowing what to expect in my bank account at the end of the month makes me anxious.

The future of work in my life and in wider society is uncertain. There will be teething issues as individuals and organisations try to fit more flexibility into stable employment and more stability into flexible employment. I find this exciting and intimidating. In the midst of these changes, a job update on LinkedIn can only show so much.

The Multi-Hyphen Method by Emma Gannon (2018), next to a Sansevieria plant