July 28, 2020

Why aren’t freelancers taking any time off?

Written by Martin Baxter

When I started as a freelancer I had grand plans for my future. I pictured myself taking a midweek city break in Paris, spending months in Australia and plenty of long weekends catching up with friends in luxurious hot tubs across the country. The reality has been less globetrotter and more desk-squatter, and the best view I’ve had in recent weeks is the static sea screensaver on my Mac. 

IPSE research shows that the average freelancer takes just twenty-four days holiday per year, whereas traditional employment can offer as many as six weeks annual leave. I did a quick poll of my closest freelance friends, and I can safely say that the majority of us are not prioritising time off this year. This is a worrying prospect. 

Presenteeism (continuing to work when you’re mentally or physically unwell) in UK workplaces has more than tripled in the last decade. I dread to think what the figure is for people in self-employment.  

The majority of freelancers agree that time off improves their work-life balance, has a positive effect on relationships and eases feelings of stress and anxiety. But one in ten of us struggle to take a single day off in any given year. As I sit here knee-deep in the whirlwind of promoting my second book, I’ve got to admit. I need a break. But why is it so flippin’ hard when you work for yourself? 

1. We’re scared about the economy  

The government support grants for those of us adversely affected by coronavirus are not enough. My first payment covered just over a month’s worth of outgoings. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but, really?

With the UK economy set to shrink by 8% by the end of 2020 (and unlikely to recover until 2023) time off to kick back and relax feels out of reach. I’ve personally been spending my days relentlessly plotting ways that I can secure regular income on a longterm basis to offset the clients I’ve lost as a direct result of coronavirus. This constant state of anxiety pushes me to work harder and longer hours to try and plan for the unexpected. 

2. The feast or famine mindset 

This is engrained in most freelancers from the word go. You’re either incredibly busy and therefore stressed, or incredibly quiet and even more stressed. This means that there never feels like a ‘good time’ to book in a holiday because there’s either a pile of work to do or panic sets in as tumbleweed rolls into town.  

3. We believe that time equals money  

Many freelancers work by exchanging their time for money. This means setting a fixed hourly or day rate that you receive for the time you’ve worked. But what about the days where you’re ill? Or the days when you need to stand in line for your prescription? Or when you’re so burned out that your brain forces you to down tools and go back to bed? The ‘time equals money’ equation doesn’t allow for this unless you account for time off (unexpected or otherwise) within your rates. This means charging more so that when you do finally take that day trip to the beach, you can enjoy it without feeling guilty about the loss of income.  

Why we need time off 

We all know that holidays are great for our health, but they’re SO good for business too. In regular employment, when you’re not performing at your best, the chances are this won’t have a major impact on the business as a whole. But when you’re self-employed you make up 100% of the workforce. While that might sound scary, it also means that you only need to worry about giving yours truly the best possible break in order to have an impact on your entire business. 

Time off gives you a different perspective on life, allows you to do some big picture thinking and increase your energy levels. It can also spark creativity – I know that I definitely have my most innovative ideas when I’m socialising with different people or taking in new experiences. Perhaps most importantly, time off can help you cope with stress. I like to think of time off as a form of medication that will improve my health and therefore my business as a whole. 

How to take time off 

  • Start an online savings pot for unplanned time off. If you set aside £20 a week, you’ll have £1,000 within a year 
  • Test out some virtual assistants so that you feel confident delegating work to them when required 
  • Consider getting income protection insurance to help cover your outgoings if you are unable to work due to sickness 
  • Practice different skills. Being off with a broken leg means you might have to stop working in a physical role for a while, but you could still make money via another avenue such as delivering online training or copywriting 
  • Think about implementing some passive income streams so that you can earn a little bit of money even when you’re not technically working  

Author bio: 

Fiona Thomas is a freelance writer with work published in Readers Digest, Grazia, Metro and Happiful Magazine. The flexibility of freelancing has had a positive impact on her mental wellbeing and she now seeks to show others that they too can work happily, healthily and have a successful career to boot. Her latest book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss encapsulates this and is available on eBook now.

About Martin Baxter

Read more blog posts by Martin Baxter


Subscribe to our exclusive mailing list for the latest stories, newsletters and freelancer tips from the Dinghy team