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Flexible workers often find themselves buried in work due to overcommitment.

When managing a career that’s project-based and not full-time, it can be easy for a freelancer to say yes to an opportunity without taking inventory of their existing workload. 

Overcommitment happens because the flexible-worker structure differs so much from the typical 9-to-5 job. A flexible worker’s income – and hours worked – can fluctuate based on the projects available and for those workers with a core project base, the idea of some extra income is appealing. There is also the opportunity for a freelancer to continually grow their resume and client base by picking up new projects.

In a flexible worker’s world, however, opportunities are limitless but time is limited. When there is an imbalance like this, it can be easy to lose sight of how many working hours are really available, especially when factoring life’s other responsibilities. 

So, even though flexible workers are on average happier than traditional employees, they are still just as at risk of burnout as their 9-to-5 counterparts. How they manage and prevent burnout, though, is a much different approach. 

Determine rates immediately 

In the flexible working world, workers can put in fewer than 30 hours a week – in fact, 58 percent of workers do – and still make more than they would at a traditional job. There are even flexible workers who log 10 hours a week or implement three-day weekends for themselves. 

How? It’s all about knowing their worth. 

According to research by Harvard Business Review, flexible workers are worth more than they may think. Between February and April 2021, HBR surveyed 218 U.S. flexible workers and the companies that hired them. More than 73 percent of those organizations’ business leaders said their company lacks the complete set of skills and experiences required to operate successfully. 

Knowing one’s worth, however, is easier said than done. The flexible worker pricing structure is much different than a full-time position’s structure. When contracting, workers have to consider their own expenses, taxes and more. It’s a much different strategy than negotiating their full-time salary and benefits package. 

Freelance writer and career coach Jenni Gritters – who logs about 15-20 hours per week – recommends determining a desired monthly income first, then breaking that down into how many hours needed to reasonably hit that goal. 

“Take that rate and bump it up by about 20% to account for taxes, and that is the number that you want to make sure you are hitting,” Gritters told Indy. “Next, you can do some time tracking with your clients and figure out who is helping you meet that rate and who is not, and then you kick them out and replace them.”

Draw boundaries and sticking to them

Flexible workers set their own hours and can work anytime they’d like. That doesn’t mean they are available at any time, though. For clients that have a more traditional view of working hours, there may be some disconnect with flexible schedules. And that’s OK – our culture has been brainwashed into believing 9-to-5 is the best and only way and just needs some gentle rewiring.

Boundaries are the best way to contribute to this rewiring and the good news for flexible workers is they are the ones in control to enforce these boundaries. Unlike traditional employees, flexible workers decide how they carry out their work and not the other way around. If that means Fridays are off limits for meetings and communication, that is something a client must accept to access high-quality, skilled work.

Flexible workers have the power to determine when they work, how they work and how much they work. Before they take on any client, these preferences must be determined. If not, important boundaries may be encroached and burnout will eventually ensue. 

For those less assertive types, drawing boundaries and sticking to them is an intimidating concept but it is essential to preventing burnout. When taking on contract work, there are three key boundary areas to be aware of. 

  • Financial boundaries 
    • Flexible workers set financial boundaries to ensure they will get paid at a fair rate and on time. A great example of a financial boundary is drafting a contract to sign and date before the work begins. Determine the rate, amount of hours worked and deadlines to set clear expectations.
  • Accessibility boundaries 
    • Technology has equally created and solved problems in the workplace. Decades ago, people left their work at work. Then the computer entered our homes. Then the smartphone entered our pockets. And now, we’re more reliant on tech than ever. With more avenues to communicate, there are more opportunities for work to bombard our personal lives. So, for flexible workers that often have unorthodox schedules, it’s important to communicate with clients their ‘on’ and ‘off’ hours, as well as communication expectations. For clients that are higher maintenance or often require 24-hour turnaround times, consider implementing “Express Delivery” pricing in your contract. This ensures a flexible worker is compensated for any last-minute inconvenience.
  • Workload boundaries 
    • Flexible workers with multiple, happy clients are often asked – or, at times, expected to – expand their workloads. To the client, all they see is what they put on the plate and they aren’t able to see the other clients their flexible worker is attempting to balance. For the flexible worker, the strong working relationship may put guilt or pressure on accepting the work, however, it is always OK to say ‘No.’ In fact, many clients appreciate when collaborators are upfront about their workload and protecting the quality of work. 

Nurture relationships 

When flexible workers set expectations and boundaries with clients upfront, it makes it easier to build a strong and healthy working relationship. There are no surprises or changes in working style halfway through the relationship and the upfront transparency helps build trust right from the start. 

Once that important initial stage of the relationship is formed, it’s up to the flexible worker to further nurture that relationship throughout its lifespan. The simplest way to do this is through quality work that’s turned in on time, however, it’s what a worker does outside of the work that really leaves an impression. 

For example, being invested in the people as well as the work shows an extra level of care. Many flexible workers will send clients and collaborators handwritten notes to show appreciation or simply ask about their hobbies or interests to build a personal connection. We may be workers, but it is also important to remember we are people at heart. 

Flexible workers that want to take an extra step for their clients often invest their own money in professional development opportunities or resources (like Adobe Creative Suite or Pro versions of Canva, LinkedIn and Zoom, for example) that benefit their clients. These resources give a flexible worker’s clientele a boost in knowledge and work quality, making it easier to negotiate a pay bump for the next project. 

These relationships, though, aren’t just about pay. Because when flexible workers have strong boundaries established with people that trust them, they are able to enjoy life more by taking uninterrupted vacations, enjoying mindful family time, being able to get the rest they need when ill and so much more.