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There are a number of things that millennials (born between 1980 and 1996) look for in the workplace. Yet in reality, what at first might seem like a long laundry list of requests ultimately boils down to this: as Entrepreneur.com puts it, for these digital natives, it’s about having control over their working hours. And who doesn’t want that?
So it’s no wonder contracting work in Asia is on the rise. After all, few other career choices can afford the kind of freedom that contractors get. Take it from me, because I, too am a contractor of the millennial variety. In December 2017, I made the fateful decision to leave my full-time position as a senior writer to be a contractor for hire. And in short, become my own boss. Or more accurately perhaps, I signed up for a conveyor belt of bosses.
Nearly two years on, it has largely been a positive, life-changing decision. And while there are some definite downsides to contracting work, here are a few reasons why it is a viable career path for many professionals.
Full-time employment is a bit like a Netflix subscription. The company pays you a certain amount of money every month, and you perform a set of tasks that are required of you. However, we don’t always have a say over how much work we have to do, what kind of work we get or when we have to complete it all. In my case, it was not uncommon to be burdened by more work than I could handle, or to be assigned projects completely beyond my field of expertise. Doing ‘double-duty’ was not only the norm, it was expected in the name of a ‘lean team structure’.
Contract work is very different in that regard. As a contractor, both parties have to decide and agree on the scope of work before a project commences. This means I am able to assess what I can or cannot do, which helps to set expectations for all parties involved. And since everything is written down in black and white, there are fewer misunderstandings, no dramas and no surprises — it’s a win-win situation.
As a full-time employee, the experiences I gained were limited to the work that came my way. There was only so much I could grow within the same company: and before long, challenges became onerous and development opportunities appeared to stagnate.
As a contractor, I feel more empowered as to who I choose to work with. I have amassed a decent portfolio of clients within a relatively short period of time, from a foreign exchange trading company and a Hungary-based event management company, to a B2B travel media firm and a Singapore-based tech start-up. That’s not counting the websites and publications I’ve contributed to in between. What’s exciting about contract work is that every job presents a different set of challenges, which in turn allow me to ‘level up’ within a short span of time.
It is not necessarily a bad thing to remain in the same company for years on end. But in many ways, once you do, you don’t quite know if the grass is truly greener on the other side as everybody seems to suggest.
Contract work, on the other hand, is akin to a buffet dinner. Instead of a standard dinner menu, I am able to dabble in different types of work with different types of companies. If I like what I am doing, I can choose to remain on the same project or even become a full-time employee if the opportunity arises. If I don’t, then the contract will run its course in a few months anyway: and leaving will be free of drama. Contract work has a built-in exit strategy, and allows the contractor to experience what it’s like in different companies, industries and work cultures. As the saying goes, if you never try, you’ll never know.
Work-life balance means different things to different people. I can only speak from my own point of view. But as a full-timer, my work-life and personal life used to be mutually exclusive. If I had to be based at the office from nine-to-six on weekdays, it was near impossible to peel myself away to do much else. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that my bosses at the time weren’t flexible. It’s just that the clients, and we handled plenty of them, could be less than understanding.
As a contractor, it’s much easier to compartmentalise my time. Instead of seeing work as one block of time and my personal life as another, I usually break each down by tasks. This means that I might spend the morning replying to emails and liaising with clients, then visit my parents at home for an hour or two before continuing with work afterwards. Granted, the nature of my profession allows me to work anywhere with a laptop and an active WiFi connection — but you will be surprised at the kind of roles available to contractors.
The biggest downside to this for me is that, even though I work roughly the same number of hours every week as I did a full-timer, I often find myself working later into the night — even on weekends. The boundaries between work life and personal life too, can become blurred over time.
With that said, as a full-timer, you work on the company’s schedule. As a contractor, you get to call the shots. To me, it is this ability to fine-tune the tasks at hand and having full control over the time it takes to complete them — that is my definition of a true work-life balance.
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