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One can be the loneliest number — many UK freelancers feel lonely and isolated following leap to self-employment. A new Epson EcoTank survey reveals both sides of freelance life; many highs, but also some surprising lows.

Annika Fagerstrom, Head of Consumer Products, Epson UK, discusses about the mental health impacts of freelance working, and offers advice to help freelancers return some all-important comradery back into their working lives and enjoy the benefits this style of working can offer:

There are over two million freelancers in the UK. While there are many benefits of working in this way, new research, revealed by Epson today (5 Sep), has found that one in four of these workers experiences depression as a result of isolated working conditions.

The findings show nearly half (48%) of freelancers find their work lifestyle lonely; a quarter (25%) of respondents have experienced frequent periods of depression, and over a fifth (21%) claim that the loneliness of remote working has caused them to have suicidal thoughts. The impact of isolation and loneliness on mental health is widely recognised, including by national mental health charity, Mind.

In recognition of this, Epson is celebrating and supporting the UK’s freelance workforce by launching ‘The EcoTank Pop-Up', a unique retail experience that doubles up as a coworking space in London’s Covent Garden. Open now, until 28th October, the shop is giving freelancers and bloggers, remote and hot-desk workers a space to work together – and the chance to benefit from unlimited printing on Epson’s on-site EcoTank printers.

The solo self-employed are now a vital element of the UK economy, contributing around £271 billion to the government's coffers in 2017, of which around £125–140 billion came from freelancers. But with some predicting that by 2020, half of the workforce will be freelancing, we need to take an objective look at the world of self-employment and tackle its challenges head-on, giving freelancers the tools and skills they need to work effectively — and happily.

The Epson EcoTank research, which surveyed 1000 UK freelancers, found that most (91%) worked from home at least some of the time. When asked why they had chosen to freelance or work remotely, respondents said that a better work/life balance (53%) and greater flexibility (62%) were among their reasons; some said they wanted to avoid working in an office, which they found stressful (47%).

There are, however, disadvantages to solo working. While 54% of respondents to Epson's study declared freelance life 'liberating', a striking 48% admitted to finding it 'lonely' and 46% said it was 'isolating'. The absence of an office social life is felt keenly by some; 32% of respondents said they missed office banter and 29% missed being part of a team.

Perhaps this is why the study also uncovered some worrying implications for freelancers' mental health. A quarter (25%) of respondents had experienced frequent periods of depression, and around a fifth (21%) claimed that the loneliness of remote working had caused them to have suicidal thoughts. The impact of isolation and loneliness on mental health is widely recognised, including by the national mental health charity, Mind.

According to Mind, at least one in six workers is experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. It says there are small, simple steps you can take to look after yourself and make your workplace mentality healthier.

It’s very clear that the leap into self-employment brings many changes, most of them beneficial. However, for those lacking structure or support, solo working can be tough.

Epson wants to be part of that support system and help the UK's hard-working community of independent, flexible workers to thrive. That's why our EcoTank Pop-up, which will be in London's Covent Garden throughout September and October, will provide a welcoming space where freelancers, bloggers and other self-employed people can take advantage of the facilities on offer — including unlimited printing on Epson's latest range of EcoTank printers — while meeting their peers in a relaxed environment.

Visitors to the pop-up can also benefit from a range of expert-led workshops on relevant subjects, from finance to building a new business and the new technologies to watch. We have designed these to give attendees the support and knowledge they need to help them prosper. 

Here are five small steps that could help return some all-important comradery back into the working life of any independent, flexible workers who are feeling the isolation of working as a team of one:

  1. Meet up with somebody during the day. This could be a former colleague, friend, business contact or fellow freelancer. The important thing is to punctuate the working day with some good company.
  2. Join local networking groups. Many towns and regions have business networking groups; find them through your local/industry press or on LinkedIn. Although many have a web presence, they often hold in-person meetings and events, too. You may even find a peer to collaborate with.
  3. Get mobile. If you have the right technologies and apps, and they are quite easy to come by now, you can work more or less anywhere, including areas where people congregate such as cafés and libraries. (Hint: with EcoTank printers, you can even print remotely.)
  4. Make friends online. There are many freelancer forums and industry-specific networking groups and forums online, the trick is to find one that suits you. Once you've done that, you always have somewhere to go for a chat.
  5. Most of all, remember that you are not alone. There are literally millions of solo workers in the UK and many millions more worldwide.

Freelancers are at the vanguard of the new working world — all they need are the tools to make the most of it. If you would like to include information on support for anyone affected by any of the issues detailed in the above press, Mind has a number of helplines available.

Annika Fagerstrom, Head of Consumer Products, Epson UK

About the methodology and sample: Arlington Research conducted 1000 interviews in the UK using an online methodology amongst a nationally representative sample of freelance workers. All respondents were employed/self-employed/a business partner or owner. Quotas were applied to gender, the age of respondent and the region in which they reside to ensure that the sample is nationally representative.

About Epson: Epson is a global technology leader dedicated to connecting people, things and information with its original efficient, compact and precision technologies. With a lineup that ranges from inkjet printers and digital printing systems to 3LCD projectors, smart glasses, sensing systems and industrial robots, the company is focused on driving innovations and exceeding customer expectations in inkjet, visual communications, wearables and robotics.

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