The rise of the freelancer: Gen Z are turning their backs on secure jobs as layoffs and AI scare them away from the traditional 9-to-5

It’s tough being a Gen Zer. It’s even tougher to be a Gen Zer looking for work at a time when the specters of AI and layoffs loom large—neither of which is in their control.

That’s why Gen Z is shunning typical 9-to-5 jobs in favor of freelance roles, self-employment and side hustles. In fact, this young breed of workers thinks traditional employment means losing control on their careers, according to a survey of Gen Zs in Germany, France, the U.K. and the U.S. released Wednesday by Fiverr, a global freelancing job platform.

“The youngest members of today’s workforce, Gen-Zers, have faced nothing but hurdles—a global pandemic and unprecedented development in technology,” Fiverr’s chief business officer, Gali Arnon, said of the survey results.

COVID-19 left Gen Zers confined to their homes (and made introverts of them), while soaring inflation and interest rates led them right into a cost-of-living crisis. The job market, in the meantime, has remained tight in many countries.

It turns out those surging costs are a key reason why 69% of Gen Zers in the U.K. are now banking on themselves to create career opportunities. They’re either considering or already taking on freelance work and self-employment in 2024. Overall, across the four countries covered in the survey, an overwhelming 70% of Gen Z respondents said they are freelancing now or plan to do so soon.

Separately, about of a third of the British Gen Zers surveyed cited the cost-of-living crisis as the reason for picking the career path that they do.

The number of self-employed and freelance workers has been steadily ticking up in the U.K., contributing roughly £278 billion ($352 billion) to its economy in 2022, according to not-for-profit group IPSE.

However, the work has traditionally come with some downsides—namely not having the steady, dependable income a corporate job brings. But staff are undeterred, as there’s been a growing trend towards adopting this self-driven way of work in recent times.

Rethinking jobs: AI, layoffs, remote work and graduate degrees

The study, carried out in partnership with market research group Censuswide with 10,000 participants aged between 16 and 26 years, points to other concerns shared by Gen Z.

About a third of those surveyed said their main reason for looking away from mainstream employment is so there’s “less chance of being laid off or replaced by AI.” Arnon argues that with these factors added to the mix of scaries Gen Z is facing at work, they feel more inclined to pursue a career on their own terms.

“Not only does freelancing and self employment offer a stable path to be their own boss or to own their own business, but it also allows for Gen Z to have total autonomy over their own lives,” she said.

Globally, about 44% of Gen Zs prioritize financial comfort through their work—and seem to believe that freelance work and self-employment will offer the path to achieving that.

But the types of jobs aren’t the only thing Gen Zers, who are either just entering the jobs market or are a few years into working, are on the fence about. They’re torn about whether university degrees are worth it, too. Only 35% of those surveyed in the U.K. believe a degree is needed to be successful, while others place a premium on work experience over other forms of qualifications.

The U.K.’s results roughly match what’s seen in France, the U.S. and Germany, which were included in Fiverr’s survey. For instance, French Gen Zers are also eyeing self-employment—not necessarily for cost-of-living reasons—but because they want to be their own boss (bear in mind, this is a country with rich history when it comes to workers’ rights). The financial freedom of freelancing is a big factor, too. French survey respondents, like their British counterparts, plan to work freelance at some point this year.

Meanwhile in the U.S., nearly 25% of Gen Zs surveyed bet on freelancing being more stable than a full-time job. Meanwhile, in Germany, Gen Z employees don’t care to push their boundaries too much for a job, Fiverr’s data reveals. Fewer German Gen Zers say they would go above and beyond at work compared to in the U.K., U.S. and France.

Gen Z want to call the shots

Gen Z and their preferences on work is all that anyone can talk about, even though they may be the smallest proportion of a generation at work currently.

Past studies have pointed to Gen Z being more in favor of self-employment as they’re met with the realities of an increasingly expensive economy. They’re also wrestling with mental health and productivity challenges as they don’t feel understood in the workplace among older generations

Are Gen Zers asking for too much? We’ll have to wait and watch. But as they stand at the crossroads of big trends, from AI to workplace flexibility and side-gigs, their ways will likely shape how the future of work.

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