With decades of expertise under their belts, more people over 50 are going freelance. Is this a loss or gain to the new world of working?
For decades, the narrative around the workforce has been dominated by the rise of millennials and Gen Z. Their tech-savvy, agile minds have been touted as the future of work, prompting questions about the place of older generations. But in the shadows of this narrative, another force is quietly making its mark: the 50+ workforce.
The over 50s, now in the prime of their careers and with decades of experience under their belt, likely have even more confidence in their ability to make a success of it.Andy Chamberlain, IPSE’s Director of Policy
These experienced professionals bring a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and perspective to the table. They’ve witnessed the evolution of industries, navigated economic shifts, and mastered the art of collaboration by working in-person with varied departments. This expertise gives them a unique confidence to embark on new ventures, be it starting their own businesses, mentoring younger colleagues, or taking on leadership roles in uncharted territories.
While the overall self-employed population took a dip, some are saying a “silver tsunami” is trending through the freelance and contractor economy.
The self-employed sector’s contribution to the UK GDP jumped £50 billion in 2023, hitting a staggering £331 billion.IPSE
IPSE’s latest report reveals that 1.1 million over-50s are now running their own businesses, which is a whopping 89,000 increase since 2020. That equates to one in six new freelancers deciding to break ties with traditional office jobs and go freelance.
This trend is economically powerful. The self-employed sector’s contribution to the UK GDP jumped £50 billion in 2023, hitting a staggering £331 billion.
Why are more people over 50 going freelance?
- Experience is the new black: Decades of expertise under their belts give our 50+ colleagues the confidence to boss their own ventures.
- Freedom fatigue: Leaving the corporate grind for control and flexibility is music to many experienced ears.
- Dreams deferred, no more: Whether it’s chasing a passion project or just wanting a better work-life blend, more over-50s are saying “yes” to their own terms.
Andy Chamberlain, IPSE’s Director of Policy, offers his take on what is driving this “second spring” in the 50-plus workforce:
“It’s clear that self-employment’s offer of independence and autonomy in work are particularly attractive to experienced professionals, especially if they have lost an employed role or have become disillusioned with the 9-to-5.
“Many harbour dreams of starting their own business, whether it’s to pursue a lifelong dream, increase their income or find a better work-life balance.
“But the over 50s, now in the prime of their careers and with decades of experience under their belt, likely have even more confidence in their ability to make a success of it.
“The UK is fortunate to have a vibrant self-employed sector that offers a fresh shot at success to people at any stage in their careers, and we should celebrate the fact that tens of thousands more people – especially those over 50 – are doing just that.”
So, is the rise of the 50+ workforce a loss or a gain for the new world of work? The answer, like most things in life, is nuanced.
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The potential gains of a growing over-50s freelance workforce
- Stability and Mentorship: Seasoned professionals offer valuable stability and mentorship to younger colleagues. Their experience provides a foundation for knowledge transfer and guidance in navigating the complexities of the modern workplace. This fosters a cross-generational exchange of ideas and skills, leading to a more robust and adaptable workforce.
- Innovation and Adaptability: Contrary to popular belief, 50+ workers are not averse to change. Their years of experience have equipped them with the skills to adapt to new technologies and trends. They can bridge the gap between traditional practices and emerging innovations, driving progress and ensuring smooth transitions.
- Entrepreneurial Spirit: The confidence born of experience can translate into entrepreneurial zeal. Many 50+ workers are choosing to break free from traditional employment and pursue their own ventures. This entrepreneurial spirit injects fresh ideas and dynamism into the economy, creating jobs and fostering a more diverse entrepreneurial landscape.
Potential concerns if more people over 50 leave the office
- Resistance to Change: While some 50+ workers embrace change, others might struggle with the fast-paced nature of the new world of work and not having a company infrastructure to support them. This could lead to resistance to working from home, commuting to predominately an empty office with a lack of colleague collaboration, new technologies and processes, hindering collaboration and innovation.
- Ageism and Bias: Unfortunately, ageism still exists in the workplace. Stereotypes about older workers being less tech-savvy or adaptable can lead to unfair biases and hinder their career progression. Combatting ageism is crucial for creating a truly inclusive and diverse work environment.
- Intergenerational Friction: There can be miscommunications and misunderstandings between generations in the workplace. Different work styles, communication preferences, and technological comfort levels can create friction, leading to conflict and hindering productivity.
- Loss of institutional knowledge: Experienced employees leaving can take valuable knowledge and institutional memory with them, creating knowledge gaps and requiring re-training.
- Potential legal and tax complexities: Companies need to navigate legal and tax considerations associated with independent contractors, which can be more complex than employing full-time staff.
The Road Ahead
To harness the full potential of the 50+ freelance workforce employers should create age-inclusive environments that value experience and provide opportunities for continuous learning and development. Workers, freelance, contractors and salaried staff in turn, should embrace lifelong learning and stay open to new technologies and ways of working.
Freelancers should empathise with hiring company concerns, so take note of the above-mentioned concerns and illustrate to potential clients how you can alleviate their fears.
By fostering collaboration, communication, and mutual respect, we can all create a world of work where age is just a number, and experience is a valuable asset. The 50+ freelance workforce is not a relic of the past, but a potent force shaping the future of work, especially for younger workers who want a sounding board, experience they can turn to and a fresh perspective.