How To Cope With The Stress Of Working Alone

How To Cope With The Stress Of Working Alone
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The gig economy is offering Australians jobs, but it comes at a cost. These are often temporary positions, where workers are independent and have to take on more risks.

In our series Working Well in the Gig Economy we ask experts how workers can cope in this new environment.

The nature of work in the gig economy – where workers have to support themselves and take on the risk associated with the job – undermines some of our fundamental human needs and can create a significant amount of mental stress.

People often define their worth to society, friends, and family through their job. In fact, when people are asked “If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or stop working?”, studies consistently find that most people say that they would keep working.

With work playing such an important role in our lives, it’s not surprising that the stress of insecure work can have a huge big impact.

It’s not uncommon for people to feel insecure about their job at various times in their working life. This insecurity comes from concerns about the future of their work, whether it will continue in the future, the nature of the job, or a combination of the two.

Job insecurity is associated with emotional exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and even heart disease. But with the gig economy, this sort of insecurity is part and parcel of the job.

According to the well known hierarchy of needs it’s essential that our physiological, safety, and security needs are met. Feelings of security can come from having a job, a home, and sufficient financial means. Once these needs are met, then we turn our motivation to the remaining levels of the hierarchy of needs: belonging, esteem, and (for some) self-actualisation.

For workers in the gig economy, the motivation to meet these safety and security needs can understandably become overwhelming. They might withdraw from family and friends, struggle with their mood, and stop enjoying the things that used to give them pleasure (think that sounds a lot like depression? You’re right).

Freelance work is more stressful for some

The lack of security that comes from this type of work is not a problem for all of these workers. Different life circumstances will mean the stakes involved with gig work change over time.

It’s important to differentiate between people who use contracts through choice, versus those who feel like contract work is their only option.

Workers in the gig economy might also have a different experience based on age. Worrying about how much money you can put into your superannuation feels quite different depending on whether you are 20 or 50.

Similarly, someone who chooses to do some driving for Uber on the weekend to make a little extra money on top of their permanent job, will have a difference experience of gig work than someone who relies on their Uber driving to pay their rent.

Written by Rachel Grieve

Rachel completed her undergraduate and honours degrees in psychology at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), for which she was awarded the university medal for academic excellence in 2008. In 2011 she was awarded her PhD in cognitive psychology from QUT.

Currently Rachel is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology in the Faculty of Health at the University of Tasmania. In addition to cognitive psychology, her research interests include cyberpsychology, psychological assessment, and emotion.

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