By Paula Morgan, Forbes
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable turmoil in the American job market for nearly two years. Unemployment levels rose higher in just the first few months of the pandemic than over the first two years of the Great Recession, with low-wage and low-hour workers experiencing the majority of job losses and many economists drawing comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s. While the latest news about unemployment is encouraging, the persistence of the virus and its variants leave the future uncertain.
If a silver lining is to be found, though, it may be in the radical increase in self-employment that we have seen during the pandemic. With the rising necessity to switch from in-person to remote work environments, employers are getting more comfortable with enlisting independent contractors. Hiring freelance workers presents a number of benefits for organizations, including the ability to more quickly onboard specialized talent as well as reduce the costs of full-time employee retention.
It’s not just employers who enjoy the benefits of self-employed and freelance workers, though. There are many reasons people might give up their traditional 9-to-5 job in favor of working for themselves, either as a freelance worker or business owner. These are many of the same reasons that self-employment may be appealing to men and women looking to get back into the workforce after leaving due to a medical condition or disability.
Self-employment offers an unparalleled level of autonomy for people with disabilities. Even the best, most employee-centric companies often involve a hierarchy and corporate framework that can involve several levels of accountability and operational processes. Self-employment allows for self-management, letting you use and grow your skills and abilities naturally without the need to answer “up the ladder” within an employer environment.
When various governments and groups mandated lockdown protocols earlier in the pandemic, businesses that relied on employees to work in-person had more complicated issues to resolve, while others were able to successfully pivot to remote/online connectivity. While we hopefully won’t have the same extent of limitations going forward, many employers are allowing workers, and particularly freelancers, the continued flexibility of not having to commute into an office. This can present a tremendous benefit for someone with a disability who has limited mobility.
The concept of work-life balance is getting increased attention among workers, and for a good reason. Everyone has their own personal lives and commitments that they tend to outside of a work environment, whether that is spending time with family members or participating in your favorite hobby. People with disabilities may have additional demands on their time, such as regularly scheduled meetings with medical providers, tests and screening appointments, and physical therapists, which could impact their ability to work a typical eight-hour workday. One benefit of the self-employed lifestyle is getting to set your own work hours that will allow you to be most productive and not conflict with other engagements, while still meeting the company’s business needs.
People who live with disabilities often have to deal with unfair stereotypes, stigma, and assumptions about their condition and abilities. These attitudinal barriers can unfortunately prove to be just as difficult to overcome as any practical limitations posed by their health condition. Self-employment can bring a sense of self-empowerment. The feeling of truly being in control of one’s life and being able to make real, tangible contributions to a team or workforce can have a significant positive impact on a person’s mental health and self-image.
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