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Freelancing is on the rise, and Millennial workers are leading the way. As many as 53 million Americans, 34% of the U.S. workforce, are engaged in some type of freelance work—up from 42.6 million in 2004.

It’s no coincidence that the number of freelancers has grown at the same time Millennials have become the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. A recent national survey found 38% of Millennials freelance, a higher percentage than any other generation. As Millennials continue to age and dominate the workforce, this number will only be going up.

So what has turned Millennials into the Freelance Generation? Freelance work, which can increasingly be done independently, remotely, or within a flexible schedule, appeals to what Millennials seek in the workplace: Accessibility, Affirmation, and Authenticity. Employers caught flat-footed by this shift have already seen their Millennial workers leave traditional jobs to join the freelance economy.

Waiting to meet these expectations will mean seeing even more of your young employees walking out the door as the workforce continues to go freelance.

Millennials are addicted to technology. This is a generation that checks their phones 43 times per day on average, after all. They aren’t just posting on Instagram and taking selfies, though. They are using their technology for business, too.

Millennials expect to be able to blur the lines between their work and personal lives, and want to use the tech they have grown up with to do just that. One report found that 45% of Millennials will choose workplace flexibility over pay. In fact, lack of flexibility has been cited among the top reasons Millennials quit their jobs (costing employers $15K-$25K per employee every time one does quit).

Freelance jobs, which are often performed remotely, allow Millennials to access their work from anywhere with Wi-Fi. Websites like Upwork, Elance, and Craigslist connect them to their freelance clients or employers instantly using the tech they love.

Millennials are also commoditizing their personal lives with flexible freelance positons. Millennial Uber and Lyft drivers manage their accessibility through their iPhones, for example, allowing them to pick up a ride or two around their full-time jobs or create their own hours as part of the sharing economy. These Uber freelancers make an estimated $19 an hour doing so, which is about as much as the national average for entry level jobs, and more than part-time positions are likely to pay.

Millennials were raised by helicopter parents and received awards just for showing up to the game, so they expect—and need—need constant affirmation in their professional lives, too. About 30% of Millennial employees have reported they will leave if their career goals are not aligned with their jobs. Not every Millennial will want to leave the corporate world for a life of freelancing, but these flexible, often part-time roles let them advance their skills and careers during off hours.

Freelance roles give the Millennial, me-centered workers agency, turning them from employees to self-motivated entrepreneurs. Instead of time consuming internships, which we’ve seen are…less than optimal, Millennials are often using freelance roles to sharpen their professional chops (while getting paid).

Because they combine work and personal lives more than other generations, Millennials expect greater fulfillment from their jobs than older workers. They also value helping others more than having a high-paying career. In a recent study by Deloitte, six out of ten Millennials indicated that a sense of purpose is important in choosing where they work.

Millennial freelancers in particular want work that has “a positive impact on the world” (62% of Millennials vs. 54% of non-Millennials) or is “exciting” (62% of Millennials vs. 47% of non-Millennials). They may not be leading careers centered around changing the world, but Millennials are able to contribute in their off-hours through freelance roles.

The Bottom Line
The number of freelance workers in the U.S. has grown by almost  11 million in the past 10 years. Thanks to evolving technology, performing remote work becomes easier with each passing day. Websites like Upwork, Elance, and Craigslist connect freelance workers to clients across a wide range of industries instantly. Tech start-ups Uber, Lyft, and others have allowed Millennial workers to commoditize their personal time.

Freelance roles align with Millennials’ needs for Accessibility, Affirmation, and Authenticity in their work lives, and so freelance gigs are perfectly suited to this generation of young workers. Millennials seem to have noticed (they make up a large percentage of these workers, more than any other generation).

Up to 82% of Millennials are optimistic about the future of freelancing, and with good reason. As this generation continues to age and overtake the workforce, they will continue to drive the freelance economy. Employers who wait to incorporate the lessons of the new wave of freelance workers into their company may see a generation of workers head right for the door.  

The G Brief is the digital magazine published by Urbaneer Creative. We’re a boutique consultancy focused on helping clients better understand and engage the Millennial generation. Reach out to see what we can do for you.