work-at-home depression–yes, it is a thing

Some people–a lot of people, actually–would think that the perfect job is one in which you get to stay home and still earn money. That sounds good to me too, but working at home is not all it’s cracked up to be. And here’s why.

Working from home can be awesome, especially if you have children at home or have a difficult time commuting, for whatever reason. It’s also great if your schedule is ever changing, say, you’re a student. Or if you have a partner with a full-time job and benefits and your income helps out but isn’t the big moneymaker in the family. And there are work-at-home situations that offer the same benefits (monetarily and otherwise) of working outside the home, such as if it’s a full-time gig for one employer or it’s contract work for an employer that had to downsize, reduce its payroll, and pay its people on a per-project basis. There, the same amount of work is available, but the terms of “employment” have changed.

But for those of us whose work is piecemeal, working at home can be a drag for a number of reasons, including it can bring on depression. And here’s why:

1) Who’s the boss? Most people would think not having a boss is a good thing, right? But when you freelance for a number of different companies, you are at the mercy of their very different rules and requirements, and although you run your own company per se, the clients are the ones who direct your work. Many times too, projects can overlap and deadlines can conflict, meaning you have to take on two or more jobs at once, working crazy-long hours to get everything done, and oftentimes the work suffers. If that happens, you run the chance of not getting called on for more work.

2) Whose line is it anyway? Because of the Internet, e-mail, and smartphones, most workers would say there’s a fine line between work and home. But with freelancing, there’s no line at all. If people are forced to leave their offices and workplaces at a certain time because a shift ends, they do so. Salaried people too are able to walk away from work, get in their cars or hop on the bus or train and go home. They may take their work with them via a laptop or running through work scenarios in their heads when they get there, but there’s a line of demarcation between work and home. Freelancers don’t have that luxury. They can work at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. They work weekends, weekdays, and holidays even. They work when the work is there or, as stated at the end of point number one above, they may not be working at all.

3) Show me the money! Unless you’re JK Rowling or someone equally fortunate and talented to have made it big while doing something without a regular paycheck, the money from freelancing or contract work is not as lucrative as working for an employer. Polls have shown that people doing the same amount of work and who have the same education as those in a full-time job are paid woefully less for the same work. A small percentage can make more, but I guarantee you they are working many more hours. And yes, you can pay for your own health care and it is a tax deduction, but take it from someone who has had health care plans through an employer and plans through a self-employeed situation, without a workplace plan the premiums are higher, the benefits are lower, and you have to earn enough to pay for those premiums. It’s not a win-win situation at all.

4) I’m so lonesome, I could cry. Sitting in a room for hours on end and staring at a screen, a canvas, or whatever work tool you use can be isolating, to say the least. Whether you like ’em or not, people need other people. We’re social animals. So’s my dog, of course, but I can only have a one-sided conversation with him. We crave human interaction and if you’ve raised a family and are a freelancer simultaneously or in succession, years and even decades can go by without being able to stand by the watercooler chatting about last night’s episode of 60 Minutes. (Do offices even have watercoolers anymore or have those been replaced by water bottles? Well, at least 60 Minutes is still around.)

5) Risky business. Even big corporations shut down entire plants and office complexes at times (now more often than ever), so there’s not a soul who isn’t at risk of losing his or her job at any time these days. Long gone are the companies that hire men or women straight out of school or the service, employ them for their entire working lives, and send them off into retirement with a nice, fat pension.Though they’re few and far between (and oftentimes government agencies), there still are some employers like that. Freelancers, however, can’t count on steady work, let alone steady paychecks, ever. And there’s no pension, not even a 401(k) to fall back on one day. Sure, you can squirrel away a few thousand a year into an IRA, but there are limits to how much you can contribute and it’s all after-tax, not pretax money.

6) Happiness is a warm gun. The hot-and-cold of freelancing is extremely difficult to handle especially if you’re a lukewarm person. I like things I can count on. I’ve been married for 30 years and have had some of the same friends for decades. I hold on to my cars (the one I drive turned 14 last month), and I eat the same breakfast daily. I’m a very consistent person, so having a job without a consistent workflow is really difficult to bear. I am trying to supplement my freelance career with a “regular” job outside the home just so I have something to count on on a weekly basis–even if it pays half as much per hour–but finding work outside the home is difficult if you don’t have a regular employer to vouch for you. References are really hard to come by. Yes, you can use as a reference the client for whom you did a bang-up job on a recent project, but if you go after the steady, outside-the-home job, how are you going to look to that client? He or she may think you’re no longer interested in the occasional project and not call on you again, whether you got the regular job or not. He or she may think your time will be limited now, little does he know that you were juggling gigs while doing work for him too.

There are ways to get around the feelings of isolation (take your work to Starbucks, take a walk, go to the park, join a group either virtually or in person with other freelancers) and there are times the money is good for the work done, but there’s no getting around the rollercoaster of workflow that freelancers have, which in turn can affect one’s mood.

I try to look at the positives of working from home (being “there” for my kids, being in a comfortable place, not having to fight traffic in a big city–that one’s huge in my mind, and not having to dress up or even shower–OK, that one can be a big negative, actually). And I do realize that there’s good and bad with both scenarios and, truth be told, I’d rather work at home. I am fortunate that my husband earns bigger bucks in a steady job. But there’s no getting around the fact that there are negatives. Now if only I had someone to discuss them with.