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Beyond the Great Resignation — How to Attract Freelancers and Independent Talent Back to Traditional Work Discussing the recent workplace exit of employees in search of more meaningful work and ways companies can attract that talent back.

By Tyler King Edited by Chelsea Brown

Key Takeaways

  • The "Great Resignation" reflects a significant shift towards freelance and independent work driven by desires for flexibility, autonomy and more meaningful work.
  • Strategies such as flexibility, project-based roles, alignment with modern values and career growth opportunities are crucial to re-attract and retain independent talent.
  • The integration of freelancers can offer companies benefits like increased innovation, scalability, enhanced diversity and more, resulting in a symbiotic ecosystem for both traditional and independent workers.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In recent years, the labor market has witnessed a profound transformation, called the "Great Resignation," where record numbers of employees left their jobs in search of something more fulfilling. Many individuals now choose the path of freelancing and independent work over traditional employment. This shift is largely fueled by a quest for flexibility, autonomy and the pursuit of work that resonates on a personal level.

Technology has played a pivotal role in this transition, making it easier than ever for individuals to find freelance work, manage projects and communicate with clients from anywhere in the world. This digital revolution, combined with a growing cultural emphasis on work-life balance and meaningful employment, has made the freelance lifestyle more attractive and feasible.

However, the allure of independence doesn't just hinge on being one's own boss or setting one's hours. Many are drawn to freelance work because of the severe mismatches they perceive in traditional job environments, which often lack flexibility, fail to offer compelling career paths or neglect to align with modern values like sustainability and inclusivity.

Related: From the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting, Here's Why Good People are Really Leaving and How to Keep Them.

Strategies to attract independent talent back to traditional work

As the landscape of work undergoes its most significant transformation in decades, traditional businesses must innovate not just to survive but to thrive. Here are several strategies that can help re-attract independent workers:

1. Flexibility and autonomy: One of the most cherished aspects of freelance life is the ability to control one's schedule and work environment. Traditional companies can appeal to this need by offering flexible working arrangements. This might include options for remote work, flexible hours and results-oriented performance metrics instead of strict clocking in and out. For example, a tech company could implement a "results-only work environment" (ROWE) where employees are judged solely on their output and not when or where they complete their work.

2. Project-based roles: Many freelancers enjoy the diversity of working on different projects, which keeps their daily routines dynamic and engaging. Companies can capture this interest by creating project-based roles or temporary positions that allow workers to contribute to specific initiatives with a clear end date. This approach not only satisfies the worker's need for variety but also gives companies the flexibility to scale labor up or down based on current needs.

3. Cultural alignment and values: Modern workers, particularly millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly drawn to companies that reflect their personal values. Businesses that prioritize sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion are more likely to attract independent talent who are looking for more than just a paycheck. Publicizing initiatives and real impacts in these areas can make a traditional employment setting more appealing. For instance, a company might highlight its commitment to reducing carbon emissions or its active role in supporting local communities.

4. Professional development and career growth: Freelancers often invest in their own skill development to stay competitive. Companies that offer robust training programs, regular workshops and opportunities for career advancement can draw independents back into the fold. Highlighting a commitment to employee growth can assure potential hires that they will not stagnate but continue to develop professionally. An organization might, for example, offer an annual stipend for employees to attend conferences or take courses relevant to their jobs.

Related: "No One Wants To Work Anymore" Is a Phrase Old as Dirt. Here's How to Really Attract and Retain Employees in the New Age of Work

Benefits to companies and workers

The integration of independent talent back into traditional companies offers substantial benefits to both parties:

Increased innovation and creativity: Independent workers often bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas gained from diverse project experiences. By incorporating these freelancers into their workforce, companies can foster a more creative environment, driving innovation. For instance, Google has leveraged independent contractors for various projects to inject new ideas and approaches, which has often led to breakthroughs in technology and user experience.

Flexibility and scalability: The ability to scale workforce capabilities up or down depending on project demands is a significant advantage for companies facing fluctuating market conditions. Freelancers provide a flexible labor pool that can be tapped into as needed, reducing the overhead associated with permanent staff while still meeting business goals.

Diversity of thought and skills: Freelancers typically work across a range of industries and disciplines, bringing a wealth of diverse skills and viewpoints that can enhance problem-solving and decision-making within traditional firms. This diversity can lead to better outcomes and a more resilient business model.

Enhanced employee satisfaction and retention: By adopting flexible work policies and valuing professional growth, companies can improve overall job satisfaction among all employees, not just freelancers. This can lead to higher retention rates and a more engaged workforce.

As the fabric of the workforce evolves into a mosaic of traditional employment, freelancing and independent contracting, businesses stand at a pivotal crossroads. The phenomenon known as the "Great Resignation" signifies a deeper, underlying shift — a redefinition of what it means to work and to be fulfilled by one's labor. This is not just a trend but a transformation in the ethos of work itself, driven by a generation that seeks purpose, autonomy and flexibility.

Related: The Best Employees Want More Than Just Money. Here Are 6 Ways to Attract Them.

Adapting to this new reality requires more than superficial changes; it demands a fundamental rethink of how businesses structure work, engage with employees and define their corporate culture. Strategies like enhancing workplace flexibility, embracing project-based roles, aligning organizational values with those of a changing workforce and fostering continuous professional development are vital. Yet, they are merely the starting point of a broader dialogue about work in the 21st century.

As business leaders, it is imperative to challenge the status quo and critically assess whether your current practices meet the needs of a diverse and evolving workforce. Engage in conversations with both your teams and independent professionals to understand their perspectives and needs. Implementing the discussed strategies should not be seen as a checklist to complete but as part of a larger, ongoing process of organizational transformation.

Explore collaborative models that benefit both your company and the independent talent. Such models should not only attract but also sustain a relationship that nurtures mutual growth, innovation and respect. The future of work isn't about choosing between traditional and independent paths but about creating an ecosystem where both can thrive together.

Tyler King

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Assuras, A Global Management Consulting Firm

Tyler King is the CEO of Assuras, a global management consulting firm that helps organizations solve some of the world's most complex challenges. He is also the Executive Director of A Voice From Prison, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that advocates criminal justice reform.

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