Why It's Good to Be a Contract Employee

The other day, a friend who's halfway through a year-long contract as a technical editor said what today's temporary workforce is never supposed to say aloud:

"My boss keeps telling me she wants to bring me on permanently, but I'm not so sure I want that. It's funny how everybody assumes that's my goal."

Sure, my friend is thankful to have a decent-paying job this year, especially in the wake of her big, fat, soul-sucking layoff in 2008. But after a couple years of cobbling together a paycheck from various contract, part-time and freelance jobs, she's no longer sold on the sanctity of shacking up with one employer -- despite the promise of 401(k) matching and a group health care plan.

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I can relate. I took my first contract job in 1998 and have yet to accept a temporary boss's offer of permanent work. Some of the staffers I've worked alongside have said, "Why don't you just do the permanent employee thing for five years, sock away a bunch of cash and then go goof off in soloville awhile?" But I prefer my freedom now, even if it means paying for my own vacation days and owning a smaller house than my employee counterparts.

Of course, there are legions of contract, temporary and freelance workers who couldn't agree less -- and dire news reports of the ever-growing number of malcontent temps prove it. They don't want to have to find a new job every three, six or 12 months or fund their own health insurance premiums. Real or imagined, they long for the uniformity of one boss, one corporate culture, one employee manual year after year.

Entirely understandable. But in the decade-plus I've worked as a contract employee and freelancer, I've encountered many content temps who agree that contract work has its undeniable perks. Between the autonomy, flexibility and variety, many of the nation's 10.3 million independent contractors have no intention of returning to staff work any time soon. Here's why.

A Life Outside the Office

Ask a contract worker what they like most about their lack of employee status and among their top reasons you'll likely hear include "It gives me more control over my schedule," "I have more time to travel/raise my kids/work on launching my own business" or "My work/life balance is through the roof."

"Some people crave a routine with rules and parameters that when it's 5 p.m., work is done for the day regardless of if the job is finished," said Klint Briney, a marketing contractor based in West Palm Beach, Florida. "I'd prefer to finish the job and start the following day late or get off early the next day."

Enjoying more than the standard one to two weeks of vacation time a year is a big draw as well. Many content temps use the time between multi-month contracts to travel.

"If I want to take six weeks' vacation, I can," said Debbie Brannigan from Portland, Oregon, who's worked as a contract engineer for more than two decades. "I don't need to wait until I've got my designated length of service in or have to work it into a company calendar and get permission."

For Jenna Meister, an executive assistant from Los Angeles, temporary contract work offers a way to fund her wanderlust. In the past three years, she's spent significant chunks of time traveling through Central America, South America and Southeast Asia.

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