Tag Archives: Tyra Seldon

Study of Self Employment and Satisfaction

Sensei Tyra Seldon writes this week that self-employment leads to happiness [1].  From her own experience, she endorses the finding.

She says that the study “captured what so many of us know to be true: Self-employment can also lead to happiness.

She points out that self-employment provides many non-tangible rewards, including the personal satisfaction of doing good work.  She also notes that her standards as an independent worker are higher than when employed.

This study identifies some of these factors, including autonomy and especially “engagement”. Seldon refers to these as the intangible benefits of self-employment, which are at least as important as productivity and income.

Looking at the study itself, it compares the responses of professionals who are employed as managers, non-managers, and self-employed [2].

The researchers indicate that many previous studies show that self-employed workers are more satisfied than conventional workers.  This study goes further, to compare managers and non-managers, and to try to look at different aspects of “well being”.  In particular, they look at engagement, challenge, and workers’ preferences.

The overall findings are that self-employed workers are generally more satisfied than employees, but that the biggest difference is between non-managerial employees and both managers and self-employed workers.  (One interpretation would be that self-employees are their own manager, which carries the satisfaction of that role.)

Another interesting, if perhaps unsurprising, finding is that the misfit between preferences and job demands is lower for self-employed workers than for all but top managers.  In general, self-employed workers are choosing work that suits them, and have the autonomy to make that choice effective.

This study is fairly careful, but there are caveats to bear in mind.

The data is from an on-line questionnaire.  This means that these are verbal self-reports, which may or may not accurately reflect the feelings of the respondents.  The questions were administered carefully, and there are no obvious biasing factors, but there is always question whether respondents are interpreting the questions and answers the same way.  (For instance, just how meaningful are “average happiness” numbers, accumulated across multiple individuals reported “happiness”?)

A related challenge is that the sampling in this online study is rather opaque. It is difficult to know how representative the respondents may be.  It is a pretty big sample, but we really don’t know who was left out. Some workers may be less likely to volunteer information on this survey, which could bias the results.  For example, if discouraged, demoralized, or marginal workers are unrepresented, then the reported levels of satisfaction would be skewed.

This study did include a very large sample of managerial employees, which is important and often missing from studies of worker satisfaction.

The study reports the average age of the respondents to be around 40, though one wonders about the age distribution.  But there is no longitudinal data here.  How do these attitudes evolve over time?

Notably, the engagement and satisfaction increased with advancement in the organization, which surely correlates with longevity.  And are non-managerial employees less engaged because they are new or because they don’t fit or because their ambitions have been disappointed?

In the case of self-employed workers, one wonders what time frame their responses represent.  In the event they work from gig to gig, are they reporting the current or recent gigs, or multiple gigs over a longer period, or what?  I have to wonder if concepts such as engagement or satisfaction mean the same thing to people in a long-term position, compared to short term.  Engagement and satisfaction are probably not the same after several years in the same job as on the first day.

Finally, I’ll note that there are similar findings from the limited research about coworking:  coworking seems to make workers happy. (this  and see Chapter 6 and 7 of the new book “What is Coworking?”)

This study raises the possibility that coworking has nothing to do with happiness.  Given that most coworkers are freelancers, it could be the case that freelancing makes workers happy, and the workspace doesn’t matter.  I don’t know of any study that tests this hypothesis.

In the case of coworking, there is also a very strong selection bias in the studies.  Dissatisfied coworkers stop coworking, and are almost never sampled.  Reports that “coworking makes workers happy” must be taken with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, coworking spaces were invented to support independent workers.  In particular, they offer social support that conventional employees find in their workplace.  Therefore, it is very possible that self-employed workers who belong to a coworking space are even more satisfied than self-employed workers in general.  I don’t know of any study that tests this hypothesis, either.

Self-employment may not suit everyone, all of the time.

Overall, I would say that this study is more evidence that self-employment, freelancing, and coworking make some workers happy, some of the time.

As Sensei Seldon explains, this has a lot to do with things like setting your own standards, that lead to a stronger personal engagement and motivation.  For many freelancers, these psychological benefits even offset the uncertainty and financial struggles they may face.

  1. Tyra Seldon, A new study shows self-employment leads to happiness, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/04/18/a-new-study-shows-self-employment-leads-to-happiness/
  2. Peter Warr and Ilke Inceoglu, Work Orientations, Well-Being and Job Content of Self-Employed and Employed Professionals. Work, Employment and Society, 32 (2):292-311, 2018/04/01 2017. https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017017717684


Slow Down, Work Better?

The contemporary “Gig Economy” is said to be the New Way of Working. Freelance workers are “free” to hustle for gigs and work as much or as little as they want.

But people are still people, and work still sucks, mostly.

But workers are on their own.

It isn’t too surprising to me that both the Coworking Movement and the Freelancers Union are coming to talk about mental health.  Liz Elam includes “wellness” and dealing with loneliness as a top megatrend in coworking.

And this month, Sensei Tyra Seldon muses on “slowing down” in the Freelancers Union Blog.

I admit that my reaction to here headline, “Can slowing down make you more productive?” was, “I hope the answer is, ‘yes’?”  For one thing, going slow is definitely in my personal wheelhouse. : – )  But also, advancing faster by moving slower is a natural strength of older workers, who face brutal challenges in the gig economy.

Anyway, what Sensei Seldon is actually talking about is not so much working slower, as living simpler.  In particular, she’s talking about turning it off.

She starts with the ubiquitous problem of digital distraction. Recording how she spends her time yielded alarming results: lot’s of activity, much of it irrelevant.

Whereas I thought my 60-hour weeks were signs of my being a dedicated entrepreneur and being uber productive, this reality check proved otherwise.

She did the obvious experiment, i.e., turning it off.  Spending more time in face-to-face conversations.  She also started to redefine “productivity”, to include “things that were meaningful and valuable”, such as meditation, prayer, and journalng.

And she liked it.

Even better, she worked better.

I don’t think I can fully go back to the person who I was

I’m not in the least surprised by Seldon’s experience.  There is a large and growing literature that tells us that constant digital engagement is bad for you in many ways. (here, here, here, here, here, here)

It is also true that one of the principle reasons that contemporary coworking was created is to deal with the need for face-to-face interactions.  Today’s workers are well connected digitally, but many are more socially isolated than ever.   It is important not just to unplug to take care of yourself, we have to take care of each other. The best way to do that is to talk face-to-face.

These problem have been around for a long time.  Working in a conventional organization is generally just as bad or worse as freelancing in this regard. In a conventional job, it isn’t easy to tell your boss that you don’t look busy because you are doing something more important than her deliverables.

The best thing here is that Freelancers actually can unplug and focus on more than being “busy”.  In this, the contemporary Gig Economy is directly attacking one of the most critical problems facing contemporary workers.  If Freelancing and Coworking end up actually helping people  live a better life, then they will be counted as great and successful innovations in working.

  1. Tyra Seldon, Can slowing down make you more productive?, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2018. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2018/01/15/can-slowing-down-make-you-more-productive-2/

Tyra Seldon on Freelancers Giving Back

The turn of the new year is a time to think about giving, and strengthening our communities through volunteering.

For many independent and freelance workers, it may be difficult to be philanthropic or even to think of how to do so. Working on your own, how can you find time, and what can you give?

Sensei Tyra Seldon says, “Giving back is not only doable, but quite enjoyable.”  [1]

As she says, as a freelancer, “I no longer have the ease of showing up for an event on behalf of my employer or checking off a box for my HR representative.”  This means she has to do more work to connect with and support organizations that she believes in.

She lists five good ideas for freelancers who want to give back their communities

  • Volunteer with other freelancers
  • “adopt” a local organization, to support through the year
  • dedicate your birthday to a cause
  • donate unused supplies
  • volunteer at local schools

She concludes,

“I have found that pouring into my community and engaging in service has enhanced my life tremendously. In fact, it has made me a better freelancer, business owner, and most importantly, a better human being.”

Hear, hear!

I’ll add another  suggestion.

Most communities and schools have programs that introduce school kids to possible careers and occupations. A key part of this “career fair” or whatever they call it, is opportunities for students to meet and talk to professionals, to discover and be inspired to think about their own future direction.

Clearly, it is important for kids to learn about freelancing, no?

So, I encourage freelancers to try to participate is these youth programs, to visit middle and high schools.

Tell kids what freelancing is all about, why it’s cool, and how to become one.  Show kids how cool freelancers are.

For extra credit, think about ways to create summer work experiences (internships, part time jobs, etc.) for high school kids.  This is an incredible opportunity for a kid to discover a future career that he or she never even knew existed, as well as get some critical early experience.

I know it’s hard for a solo part-time worker to host a kid for a few weeks in the summer.  But perhaps it would be possible banding together with other freelancers to share the load.  Thinking caps, people!

I bet it’s doable.  I know it’ll make your community a better place, and you’ll really love it.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to Sensei Seldon.

  1. Tyra Seldon, 5 ways to be philanthropic as a freelancer, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/12/21/5-ways-to-be-philanthropic-as-a-freelancer-2/


Tyra Seldon on “co-working with virtual strangers”

Sensei Tyra Seldon muses this month on “co-working with virtual strangers”.

These days terminology about work is confused and ambiguous, and it turns out that she is not specifically talking about “coworking” in the sense of physically sharing a coworking space.  And “virtual strangers” is not the metaphorical “as good as” strangers, but rather strangers known only through digital communications.

In short, she is describing digitally enabled distributed work groups. And her point is that freelancers not only can but should work in such teams.

we become members of shared virtual workspaces without leaving our homes or offices.”

Seldon sketches the plethora of software that makes these collaborations possible.

(Aside:  you youngsters have no idea how lucky you are. In my day, we built all this stuff from scratch – making it up as we went along, and with only 1% of the storage and bandwidth you have on your tablet.  Kid’s today have it easy. : – ))

Sensei Seldon advises that there are benefits, including “skills gained, resources generated, and relationships established”. She hints at the risks to be watched, such as contracts and payments.  The important thing to note is that these are really no different than the risks and benefits of any collaboration.

working with virtual strangers is going to be a significant part of the future of freelancing and gig economy jobs.

Seldon is correct, though I would say she understates the case by far.

First of all, the gig economy is pretty much designed with virtual teams in mind. Freelancing today is, almost by definition, going to involve virtual teams. So, no news there.

Second, these technologies were developed in conventional organizations which have geographically dispersed teams. There is a vast academic literature about the benefits and limitations of these work practices. My own summary would be that it has its strengths and weaknesses, but it is extremely cost effective so it is here to stay.

Third, I’ll point out that the contemporary Coworking Movement is a response and antidote to the isolation of working “without leaving our homes or offices”.  In a coworking space workers will find a face-to-face community of collaborators.  There the teams will use the digital tools as Seldon describes, but will also be able to talk in person and generally be less “strangers” to each other.  For many workers, this is the best part of working in a coworking space.

I would say that coworking spaces were developed to try to get the benefits of digital collaboration while mitigating the perils of isolation and distrust of virtual strangers. It’s a lot easier to establish trust and mutual respect face-to-face.

In short, Coworking spaces are designed to be where freelance workers collaborate.

I’ll note that the coworking movement has elaborated the perceived benefits of these collaborations far beyond Seldon’s own testimony, including enhanced happiness, productivity, and serendipity.  See perhaps [1-3].

So, I would agree with Sensei Seldon, though I honestly don’t think Freelancers have the option to not work in virtual groups. And I would strongly encourage freelancers to explore local coworking spaces (don’t stop at the first one, find one that fits), which may well be even more beneficial.

  1. Lori  Kane, Tabitha Borchardt, and Bas de Baar, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=ybFCrgEACAAJ
  2. Liquid Talent, Dude, Where’s My Drone: The future of work and what you can do to prepare for it. 2015. https://www.dropbox.com/s/405kr9keucv97gw/LiquidTalentFoWEbook.pdf?dl=0
  3. Sebastian Olma, The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0. 2012. https://www.seats2meet.com/downloads/The_Serendipity_Machine.pdf
  4. Tyra Seldon, Can co-working with virtual strangers enhance your freelancing business?, in Freelancers Union. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/11/30/can-co-working-with-virtual-strangers-enhance-your-freelancing-business/



What is Coworking

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017 Real Soon Now.

Seldon on Love and Freelancing

Sensei Tyra Seldon asks, “Can love be the guiding force of your business?” [1]

She had me at “love”.

When we think of passion, compassion, and even love, we may associate these words with romantic or familial relationships. Rarely do we link these terms to business.

The problem is, of course, that we “want to be profitable, but we also want compassion to be a cornerstone of what we do”. This almost always leads to choices, often tough choices.

Practically anybody can make money, but how you make your money and what you compromise to do it are equally as important.

Writing for the Freelancers Union Blog, she points out that this is particularly tough for independent workers, who may not have a business degree or classwork in business ethics for guidance. A gig worker who is learning as she goes has to “be careful because unethical business practices can be subtle.” As she says, a business opportunity, any business opportunity, may be “incongruent” with your own values.

The good news is that an independent worker can walk away. It’s not so easy to quit a job and walk away from a career when a large organization chooses a problematic business. But a freelancer can say “no, thanks” to any job.

The bad news is that not only could you starve to death trying to be ethical, but you are on your own. Working for a large organization is easy, because you can delegate ethics to others. A freelancer has no choice but to choose for himself.

I will say that I consider not having an MBA and training in “business ethics” to actually be beneficial. The very fact that business schools feel a need for a specific course in “ethics” tells you that the rest of the curriculum is not about ethics. As far as I can tell, business school is all about teaching people to ignore normal human ethics in favor of some kind of economic rationalism.

My own view is that there is no such thing as “business ethics”. There are only personal ethics. You have to know your own values, and make your business conform to you. This is not what they teach at business school.

As Sensei Seldon points out,  one of the real advantages of freelancing is that you can say things like:

  • I am in love with my company.
  • I am passionate about sharing my goods and services with the world.
  • I demonstrate compassion when interfacing with my clients.

(See other posts by Seldon on Freelancing here.)

  1. Tyra Seldon, Can love be the guiding force of your business?, in Frrelancers Union – Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/07/31/can-love-be-the-guiding-force-of-your-business-2/

Seldon on Racial Divide in Freelancing

Tyra Seldon blogs about the racial divide in freelancing.

Studies suggest that there is a racial divide in freelancing, but the larger question is why?

It seems likely that there is a “gap”, even if there isn’t exceptionally solid data. Seldon points to a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which documents “self employment” statistics for the USA [2]. She notes that this isn’t necessarily the same as “freelancing”, but it does show that blacks are substantially less likely to be “self employed” than whites.

(I note in passing that the BLS counts 15 million self-employed, about 10.1% of the workforce. The Freelancers Union counts 55 million Freelancers, about 35% of workers [1]. The FU gets its larger number because it counts temporary workers, moonlighters, and others that may or may not be counted as self-employed by the BLS.)

The basic “gap” in the BLS data is the finding that roughly twice the percentage of white workers are self-employed compared to black / African American. ([2], p. 6) This difference is a bit larger than the same gap between men and women. We have to be careful here, because this number actually means that of black workers, a smaller proportion are self-employed versus employed by others, compared to white workers.  (What is the “right proportion”?)

I don’t want to belabor the statistics. There is plenty of other evidence of racial disparities in “the new economy”, including the old a “digital divide”, concerns about development of entrepreneurs [3], and observations about coworking communities.

Seldon’s main point is, why would this be?  And what can be done about it?

Seldon  solicited discussion from the support group she moderates. She highlights a comment that lists reasons why a black worker might not freelance.

  1. Lack of Security
  2. Lack of Representation
  3. Lack of Mentors
  4. Stretched too Thin

The first and fourth items are pretty generic challenges that are surely faced by every worker, especially from a poor family.  Freelancing is risky, at least if you have other opportunities.

Items 2 and 3 suggest the important cultural context. If you never meet a Freelancer, never have a strong role model, are not encouraged, then obviously you are less likely to try it. Again, this is a factor for many people, including women, older workers, working mothers, and so on.

Seldon is a passionate advocate for freelancing, and sees it as a vital and booming opportunity. She does not want people to be overlooked and left out “while the economy booms with opportunities”. I’m not so sure about the opportunities, but there is no reason for needless racial, gender or cultural sorting among Freelancers or anyone else.

I will add another point:  one of the strengths of freelancing is networking and collaboration among a community of peers. This works best of all when the pool is both diverse [5] and inclusive of the broader society. Freelancers will produce better work if they are working with a variety of peers.  It’s that simple.

What can be done?

Seldon advocates “radical hospitality” (which is a theme from coworking communities, coliving, and community spaces), mentoring, and general “reaching out”. I agree. Freelancing isn’t all about handling money, contracts, etc. It’s about working together.


I note that coworking is successful partly because there is an emerging cadre of effective community leaders who practice and teach “radical hospitality” and community feeling.

Coworking also offers a caution. There are a great variety of coworking spaces, with different communities and cultural vibes. Coworkers self-select a workplace and community that suits them. This has resulted in happy workers, but also workplaces that are not a cross-section of their local community (however you define that).

As Samara Lynn advises, “Black startup owners may also want to search for co-working spaces with multiethnic staff and fellow entrepreneurs.” ([4], p. 38).

This self-segregation is not necessarily a great “solution” to the problem.

Finally, –I say, “get ‘em young”! The best way for people to grow up to be independent workers is for kids to want to be like those people. Freelancers should try to get into school, after school clubs, etc., to teach and practice radical hospitality for all kids.

  1. Freelancers Union, Freelancing in America: 2016. Freelancers Union and Upwork, New York, 2016. https://fu-prod-storage.s3.amazonaws.com/content/None/FreelancinginAmerica2016report.pdf
  2. Steven F. Hipple. and Laurel A. Hammond, Self-employment In The United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics., Washington, DC, 2016. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1571/cf7d653ea85b9d77a305cad3b193ea17b1e6.pdf
  3. Julie S. Hui  and Shelly D. Farnham, Designing for Inclusion: Supporting Gender Diversity in Independent Innovation Teams, in Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Supporting Group Work. 2016, ACM: Sanibel Island, Florida, USA. p. 71-85. https://northwestern.box.com/s/f1fxpxgmy2hxci1j8duablc7524p0skz
  4. Lynn, Samara, Finding the Perfect Co-working Space. Black Enterprise, 46 (9):58-59, 2016. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=115709004&site=ehost-live
  5. Scott E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2007.
  6. Tyra Seldon, Freelancing and the racial divide, in FreelancersUnion Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/05/25/freelancing-and-the-racial-divide/