Fighting the freelance blues

Tampa Bay sportscaster Dave Reynolds was once full time at Media General’s NBC affiliate WFLA, but he’s now freelancing for the station as well as for Bright House’s local cable sports channel.

Like so many others in this challenged economy, Reynolds is a once-permanent employee who has turned to temporary, contract or freelance work, a trend that economists expect will remain even once the recession has ended. In April, The Human Capital Institute reported that as much as one-third of the U.S. workforce is comprised of contract workers.

Still, working without a net can be stressful enough for some workers that it can make them sick, notes a study by medical sociologist Amelie Quesnel-Vallee at Montreal-based McGill University as first reported in Workforce Management. The study is based on records collected biennially between 1992 and 2002 from the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, and the results were first presented at the American Sociological Association’s meeting on Aug. 9 in San Francisco.

“Temporary workers-those lacking long-term, stable employment-seem to be susceptible to declining mental health for as long as they continue to work in these so-called ‘disposable’ or ’second class’ jobs,” said Quesnel-Vallée.

Obviously, not knowing if you’ll still have a job tomorrow or next week can be worrisome, unless you’re one of those rare people who thrive on spontaneity and uncertainty. In addition, temporary workers often feel disrespected and disconnected at their work places, the study suggests, lacking the connections with co-workers that full-timers develop. That instability and lack of interaction appears to be hard on the nation’s legion of temps.

Those mental health issues may mean that filling vacant slots with temporary or contract workers may not make the most sense for companies, even in this tough economy. The common assumption is that using a flexible workforce leads to greater productivity, says Quesnel-Vallee, but if these temp workers are crumpling under stress and thus taking days off, productivity declines. And these temporary workers usually do not have adequate medical coverage if they want to seek help.

MediaJobsDaily makes a good point though: temping’s still gotta be less stressful than having no job at all.