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Why freelancers in adland need tailored wellbeing support

As the support organisation for advertising and media, NABS knows first-hand how many people in our industry need help with their wellbeing.

Kate Harris, NABS

Regional Director

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The single biggest reason for calling our Advice Line is for emotional support. Currently 37% of people we speak to are calling for emotional support, an increase from 31% this time last year, and that includes calls from many freelancers. What’s becoming clear is that freelancers need active and appropriate wellbeing support from their clients to support their unique challenges.

In new agency models, freelancers are hugely popular: more than 1,500 freelancers were employed last year according to the IPA’s latest agency census, and that’s just the workers in IPA member agencies. Shib Mathew is CEO of freelancer platform YunoJuno, which supports adland and creative freelancers with jobhunting and invoice management along with other aspects of their professional lives. He says, “Freelancing is growing due to the exciting and appealing flexibility and freedom on offer.”

So, the question is, with freelancing and freelancers on the rise, do agencies and other employers have a responsibility to provide specific wellbeing support to them?

The answer has to be yes, and the benefits of doing so are clear.

In an ideal world, brands and agencies would support anyone who was working for them, especially if it’s on a regular basis or a long-term assignment.

Terri Bailey

Terri Bailey is Director of Culture Change and Wellbeing Services at NABS. She says, “In an ideal world, brands and agencies would support anyone who was working for them, especially if it’s on a regular basis or a long-term assignment. Humans are naturally tribal, so making a freelancer feel part of your ‘tribe’ during the times they are working for you will no doubt increase their motivation, engagement with the organisation and overall wellbeing. You will get better work from them as a result, so it’s a win-win.”

Where do the specifics come in? It’s important to recognise that freelancers experience certain pressures on their emotional and mental health on top of those shared with their permanent colleagues. For all of the benefits of freelance life there are some considerable pressures to navigate, as Mathew explains, “Taking on too much work, client pressure, the pain of chasing invoices, finding new business…Just one of those can be stressful, but combine all of those, add in feelings of loneliness and it’s a potential recipe for disaster.”

There’s a lot to unpick there, from the emotional to the financial aspects of a freelance career. Firstly, in order to provide the right kind of wellbeing support, it’s crucial to understand that the pressures faced by freelancers can overlap into each other and into emotional health. As Annabel McCaffrey, Head of Support at NABS explains, “It’s fair to say that one of the main reasons freelancers contact us is when they’re not getting paid by their client which, of course, impacts their wellbeing.”

The question, then, is how best can adland support its freelancers’ emotional health?

Small things can also make a big difference. Encourage your freelancers to grab a coffee with you, invite them out with the team, get them talking.

Shib Mathew

For Mathew, one key is to keep checking in with freelancers, ensuring that they’re able to cope with their workloads and that they’re not isolated from the rest of the team. It’s a simple yet important task, as he explains, “Freelancers are, by nature, working for themselves and so they are not covered under the usual duty of care you see with full-time employees. This also means that freelancers move, regularly, from one office to another where they may not know anyone.” 

Mathew adds, “We would encourage all agencies or businesses who use freelancers to consider this and make sure that the freelancers they hire are coping well and, as hard as it can be, not encouraging them to work over and above their contracted hours. Small things can also make a big difference. Encourage your freelancers to grab a coffee with you, invite them out with the team, get them talking.” 

Bailey also recommends giving freelancers access to the same wellbeing initiatives offered to permanent staff, such as team building activities that contribute towards a team’s ethos and spirit as well as its ability to perform and achieve.

It’s also crucial to have an inclusive culture, where regardless of your contract status, you are part of the team.

Terri Bailey

The overlap between financial and emotional health is another key factor, as McCaffrey pointed out before. In fact, NABS’ model for understanding wellbeing, SHEPARD, includes ‘reward’ as one of the key components of emotional health. Bailey advises, “Never underestimate how important it is to pay freelancers in a timely manner. For some it could be the difference to ensuring their bills are paid and family is fed, the most basic elements of wellbeing.” That’s especially important when you remember that freelancers don’t benefit from holiday or sick pay or company pensions.  

Structurally, it’s important to ensure wider systems are in place to provide wellbeing support, backed up by a supportive culture. Bailey advises, “Every company should have some support system in place for people, whether that is HR, an EAP provider or someone senior who ensures the wellbeing of their staff. It’s also crucial to have an inclusive culture, where regardless of your contract status, you are part of the team.”

While it’s vital for organisations to provide support for freelancers, it’s also important for freelancers to check in with their wellbeing so that they can ask for help when it’s needed. As Mathew advises, “Make sure you stay on top of how you feel and take breaks if you feel stressed or on the verge of burnout. It’s important to talk to work, to visit your GP or to speak to NABS if you feel anxious or unhappy.”

 

NABS and YunoJuno, together with You Magazine, are raising funds for NABS at its Manchester Fashion Show at The Principal on 30th October. For more information & to book tickets, visit NABS’ website

Guest Author

Kate Harris, NABS

Regional Director,

About

Kate Harris is Regional Director of NABS, the support organisation for advertising and media. Kate worked for some of the most famous ad agencies in the world during a 20-year career, which culminated in five years as CEO of NABS. After moving to the north in 2005, Kate set up her own recruitment business specialising in advertising, design and marketing, Harris Talent, and took up the role of regional director at NABS.


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