Being a contractor has many advantages, from being your own boss to a higher rate of pay. That being said, it’s not without its downsides. Being solely responsible for your own work schedule and everything that comes with it can take its toll on your mental wellbeing. Don’t believe us? Despite being the happiest demographic in the workforce, contractors and freelancers are more prone to stress and overworking themselves.
Having worked closely with contractors for nearly two decades, we know a thing or two about contractor wellbeing. We often get approached asking for advice on all things self-employment, so whether you’re new to contracting or just making a conscious effort to safeguard your wellbeing – here’s how to look after yourself in the contract world:
One of the most important things you can do for your wellbeing as a contractor is to get organised. Since the responsibility of managing your tax, national insurance, business expenses and, of course your work schedule, lies with you – you need have a firm grasp on what’s going in vs what’s going out.
Get yourself a free calendar app such as Google Calendar or ZenDay so you can easily keep tabs on what work is coming up to avoid those awkward double-bookings all self-employed people are familiar with! Be sure to set plenty of reminders for when your contracts are coming to an end so you can rest assured you’ve got no big gaps in your schedule.
Learning to switch off
We know, it’s easier said than done when your mind is on getting that project finished off or what other work is coming up on the horizon. Those who are self-employed often have the hardest time when it comes to switching off and indulging in a little me time, but it’s absolutely crucial to staving off mental burnout.
If you work remotely, ensure you set yourself proper working hours and are resisting the temptation to carry on working into the early hours.
Don’t forget to factor in annual leave either! Many contractors simply don’t take holidays because the thought of turning down a job and therefor turning down money isn’t something most are willing to do. However, taking regular holidays has been proven to boost happiness and, in turn, productivity at work - meaning better relationships with clients who will hopefully book you again in the future as a result.
Now we’ve established how good holidays are for your wellbeing, you might be wondering how you get a piece of that action. Well, it all depends. The way you take holidays as a contractor largely varies depending on how you operate. If you’re working with an umbrella company, you’ll get the same statutory rights as a full-time employee. As the umbrella acts as an employer, you’ll just need to book time off with them.
As a limited company it’s not as simple unfortunately. You need to make provisions for your own time off, so just don’t book work for yourself during the time you want to take off. Don’t worry too much about the difference to your income though as limited companies get to enjoy tax reductions to make up for this.
Some contractors, particularly those in longer term employment, may choose to operate within their employer’s annual leave policy if it extends to contractors. Just ensure you check your entitlement as this is usually calculated on an accrued basis.
Looking after yourself
That means allowing yourself rest time if you’re unwell and getting enough down time in between jobs. The stereotype of contractors never taking a sick day exist for a reason, quite simply: no show equals no pay – not to mention a loss of reputation.
If you’ve already got work booked in with a client, the chances are that you being a no-show on the day could seriously impact their business. That being said, you can’t help being ill, so just be sure to let them know as soon as possible that you won’t be available to work that day and if appropriate – try to offer a workaround to cushion the blow.
Usually taking a sick day does mean that you’re likely to miss out on that day’s pay, unless you’re covered by your client’s sick pay scheme or you’re operating under an umbrella company where you get statutory sick pay.
You never know when you’re going to need to take a sick day, or take otherwise unplanned leave. So the best thing to do is to plan ahead and set up a bit of a rainy day fund so you feel less pressured to make yourself work through illness.
Unfortunately, taking time off will impact you financially as a contractor, so ease the burden on yourself and account for 4 additional weeks in your finances as well as the UK’s 8 annual bank holidays.
Another thing you need to consider as a contractor is insurance. Sometimes, even your rainy day fund might not be enough to cover you. Protect yourself against the financial repercussions of unforeseeable circumstances like injury or longer term illness with Income Protection Insurance. With IPI, you’re assured a monthly payment so you don’t fall behind on bills or business outgoings.
And finally...if in doubt, enlist some help
It can be tough managing everything on your own, so it’s no surprise that many contractors enlist the help of external bodies to lend a helping hand. Some may choose to use a specialised contracting recruitment agency, like Concept, to help take some of the legwork out of securing their next contract. Another benefit to working with a recruiter for your contracting needs is the relationship aspect. Contracting can be lonely at times, so having someone on your side who knows your skillset and what you look for in a role can be a huge helper for morale.