Touwtrekkende mensen

The future is in flux: Be prepared, be a good client organization

Science Works 3 min. Femke Trommels

The Netherlands currently has 1.3 million solo self-employed workers and the figure is rising. Still, both the government and client organizations give little attention to the personal motivation and development goals of the solo self-employed. “This is a missed opportunity,” says researcher and entrepreneur Sjanne Marie van den Groenendaal. “Not all solo self-employed workers are the same, but almost all of them feel the need to develop themselves. Organizations have an interest in a reliable and productive flexible workforce. That can only be achieved by fostering a sustainable and solid working relationship with the people you hire on a freelance basis. There is not usually any focus on expanding the career paths of these solo self-employed by the client organizations, and I would like to change that.”

Sjanne Marie van den Groenendaal analyzed HR policies in the collaboration between client organizations and freelancers by means of interviews with HR-managers and solo self-employed workers who sell their services to client organizations (a.k.a. freelancers). She comes from a family of entrepreneurs, she says. While conducting her research on solo self-employment, her partner has also become solo self-employed as a freelance chef with his own food truck. “In hindsight, it is not surprising that the subject of solo self-employed workers crossed my path,” Sjanne Marie smiles. “In my research, I have mapped the heterogeneity of the Dutch solo self-employed from a career perspective, exploring their career sustainability. Gradually more and more aspects presented themselves: academic insights, labor market developments, legislation, and the wishes and needs of freelancers and client organizations. It is important for all parties concerned to pay attention to career sustainability, but it is not sufficiently taken into account with regard to the solo self-employed.”

The principle of ‘happy, healthy and productive’ on the work floor is not usually applied to solo self-employed workers

Vulnerable

If the career sustainability of the solo self-employed is ignored, the number of good-quality solo self-employed will decline. “They are vulnerable in various ways,” Sjanne Marie explains. “Work in the construction industry, for instance, is physically demanding and few young people are entering this sector. At the other end of the spectrum, there are knowledge workers who are subject to heavy mental strain and have scarce knowledge which they must constantly keep up to date.” 

Future

In May 2021, employers’ and workers' organizations in the Netherlands adopted a draft agreement on reducing labor market flexibility and on more security for flex workers. Potentially, this agreement has major implications for the employment agency sector in particular and for vulnerable solo self-employed workers. “To me, this is a confirmation that client organizations do have a responsibility to have an inclusive HR policy for temporary workers, too,” Sjanne Marie states. “It is very much in their own interest, incidentally. The corona crisis has shown the importance of a flexible workforce to many organizations. And if the reports of well-known international consultancy firms are anything to go by, freelancers will only become more important. In the future, flexibilization and technology will play an even larger role in the labor market. The content of jobs will most likely significantly change and talent will increasingly be employed on a project basis. I think that this trend cannot be halted, especially where knowledge workers are concerned.”

Sjanne MArie Groenendaal

In the labor market of the future, the content of jobs will most likely significantly change and talent will increasingly be employed on a project basis.

Sjanne Marie van den Groenendaal

Dialogue

“As a solo self-employed worker, you have less security, for instance, as regards pension accrual and protection against disability. That’s why it is important that the solo self-employed take responsibility for their own career management. But client organizations could be more pro-active, too. Many freelancers appreciate a dialogue: What expertise do you bring to this company? What do you want to achieve? Does the client organization offer opportunities for ‘stretchwork’ (gradually assuming more tasks/responsibilities)? Also discuss the social aspect: Would the freelancers like to join social events at the office, e.g., the Christmas do? This allows the client organizations to better respond to the freelancers’ needs of and build a flexible, but sustainable working relationship.”

Client organizations have a lot to gain if they play a more explicit role in the personal and professional development of the freelancers they hire

“Finally, there is the role of the government. At the moment, the relevant legislation in the Netherlands is too generic and, in the opinion of many client organizations, unclear. A tailored approach may not be feasible, but legislators do need to take a look at the various occupational sectors and categories. And take into account the diversity of needs and, based on that, try to make legislation that is a better fit.”

Practical toolkit: A guide to being a good client organization

Based on her research results, Sjanne Marie van den Groenendaal has developed a toolkit for optimal cross-fertilization between client organizations and freelancers. The toolkit consists of five videos and blogs full of information and practical tips in the field of HR policy for freelancers. The toolkit is only available in Dutch and can be found at innovatiefinwerk.nl

About Sjanne Marie van den Groenendaal

Sjanne Marie van den Groenendaal (Maarheeze, 1992) completed a Master’s in Human Resource Studies at Tilburg University and defended her dissertation on the subject of A Career Perspective on Solo Self-Employment at Tilburg University on June 25, 2021. At the moment, Sjanne Marie is working as a postdoc researcher and lecturer at Tilburg University. In addition, she is also working as a ‘solo self-employed worker’, guiding and inspiring organizations who hire solo self-employed workers in shaping their working relationships, taking into account the solo self-employed workers’ career sustainability.

Do you want to know more?

Read Sjanne Marie van den Groenendaal’s dissertation: A Career Perspective on Solo Self-Employment.