Why 92% of freelancers say they can never take a vacation

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HoneyBook, the business and financial management platform for entrepreneurs and freelancers, released its study Thursday examining the vacation habits of self-employed Americans. What they found was that while the freelance economy provides flexibility, 92% of freelancers work on vacation; of these, 60% of them work because they feel they must.

The survey, which was conducted from May 23 to June 9, 2019, polled more than 800 creative entrepreneurs and freelancers across the nation. Today more than one third, or about 57 million U.S. workers, are in the gig economy. This is an increase of $3.7 million since 2014. The average annual salary for full-time freelancers with three to 10 years’ experience: $70,536.

HoneyBook’s results are not surprising. Most freelancers worry that time off means lost revenue. Or missing out on an incredible opportunity from a prospective client. Or worse, being replaced because they weren’t plugged in and accessible. What these solopreneurs are not thinking about is the toll it is taking on their health.

“Unlike corporate America — where co-workers help pick up out-of-office slack — solopreneurs must rely on themselves, leaving them hesitant to take any downtime,” said Oz Alon, Honeybook’s co-founder and CEO. “Can they really ignore their email and rely on a vacation responder when they have multiple clients in their pipeline? That’s a big issue, because taking time off helps replenish creative juices and boosts productivity when you return to work.”

Source: HoneyBook July 25, 2019

And for the freelancers that do take vacation, reveals HoneyBook’s survey, 43% of them hide etheir vacation from their clients and 41% hide work from friends or a partner because they feel they should “be on vacation.”

In addition, the data shows a bit of a gender gap: While men are most likely to spend time on a hobby when taking time off for reasons other than vacation, women are more likely to spend non-vacation time off taking care of a child. Further, 65% of female freelancers say they have felt the need to hide that they are working on vacation from their significant other and/or family, compared to only 41% of men — highlighting the fact that women may feel more pressure than men to deprioritize their careers to be fully present for their families.

HoneyBook’s data also shows that Gen X is less likely to fully unplug on vacation compared to millennials, despite being the poster generation for demanding work-life balance. In fact, only 1 in 4 Gen X “usually” or “always” unplug on vacation, compared to 1 in 3 millennials.

Time off is not just a worry for the self-employed

Stephane Kasriel, CEO of online talent marketplace Upwork, says the issue is much more widespread than just freelancers and the self-employed. He says most Americans — from full-time employees to freelancers — just don’t take the vacation time they need to fully recharge and spend time with family and friends.

“Truly logging off is a common challenge for most professionals today. The Honeybook study surveyed self-employed respondents. Other research, such as that by Glassdoor, shows that … the average employee who receives paid time off has only taken about 54% of their eligible PTO in the past 12 months, and of those who do take leave, the majority don’t log off completely, ” he says.

“Whether it’s an expectation that is self-imposed by the worker or a product of the current culture of work, it’s become very difficult for anyone to get true downtime, yet it is extremely important. I encourage all professionals, whether self-employed or not, to take the time they need to rebalance and refuel. People are much more productive and much happier when they get to unplug,” Kasriel says, adding that “time off is critical, and it pays dividends in multiple ways.”

He points to one study that revealed that people who took more than 10 of their vacation days were 30% more likely to receive a raise or bonus compared to those who took less than 10 days per year.

8 surefire ways to plan a relaxing, worry-free vacation

According to both Kasriel and Alon, there are many strategies freelancers can rely on to take a vacation and minimize any risk involved. Here are a few they cited.

1. First and foremost, understand that it’s OK to take a vacation. Time off provides a number of health and productivity benefits, and isn’t flexibility the reason most people turn to freelance life in the first place? Embrace it.

2. Set aside a portion of your income each month. Treat vacation time as an investment, and plan for it in your business finances by setting aside a small amount of your income each month. That way, when the time comes for vacation, you can enjoy it without worrying about throwing off your bank balance.

3. Time vacation strategically — and plan far in advance. If you have seasonality to your work or big projects you know are on the horizon, make sure to schedule time off in a way that optimizes your odds of being able to truly be away.

4. Include some vacation and sick days when calculating your rate. Since freelancers have no paid time off, build into your calendar at least two to three weeks each year and calculate this downtime into your rate.

5. Give clients an early heads-up and firmly set the expectations. Whether with clients or an employer, communicate when you initially schedule your vacation and provide a reminder at least a week prior. Schedule time to discuss the status of your projects so that everyone is on the same page and you won’t need to discuss while you’re out. In all of your communications — phone, email, text, in-person meetings — share upfront that you won’t be available or checking email on those dates and remind them again as you get closer to your vacation time.

6. Set out-of-office auto-replies and turn off alerts. Once you’re out, make sure that technology communicates your “away” status on your behalf. And don’t forget to turn off your email and message notifications so that you can enjoy your vacation without constant interruptions.

For more on tech, transformation and the future of work, join CNBC at the @ Work: People + Machines Summit in San Francisco on Nov. 4. Leaders from Dropbox, Sas, McKinsey and more will teach us how to balance the needs of today with the possibilities of tomorrow, and the winning strategies to compete.

7. Hire a virtual assistant. Virtual assistants aren’t as costly as most people think. They average around $8 an hour and many come with no contracts, no minimums and no setup fees. Delegating your administrative tasks to someone else will allow you to focus instead on your friends and family.

8. Ask for some help from freelancers in your field. They may someday ask you the same favor in return, thereby providing you with some extra funds later on — and some new contacts.

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