Why Consultants Quit Their Jobs to Go Independent

Originally published on 15 July 2019 / Dena McCallum, Susan J. Ashford, & Brianna Barker Caza / Harvard Business Review

The talent game for big employers is changing. In the past, organizations, and particularly professional service firms, could point to the door and remind any grumbling employees that it was cold out there. Today that threat might not have the same impact, as many high flyers themselves are choosing to walk out. While firms have traditionally competed with each other for talent, now they are competing with another alternative: going independent.

Surveys of workers in the U.S. and Europe have found that approximately 25-35% say they freelance for some portion of their work income. While the popular conception of gig workers tends to center on lower skilled and lower compensated gig work such as drives on Lyft or services on TaskRabbit, recent UK research revealed that 59% of the gig economy are knowledge and professional workers and only 16% drivers and delivery workers.

To better understand who is going independent and why, and what this might mean for companies, we worked with management consultancy Eden McCallum (where one of us works) and London Business School to conduct an online survey of 307 independent consultants and 94 traditionally employed consultants in Europe and North America, in October 2018.

Why Consultants Go Independent

The independent consultants in our sample are highly experienced, and approximately 75% are the main or sole household wage earner. Most (90%) said they proactively chose to start independent consulting, whereas only 10% reported being forced to go independent as a result of losing their job. When asked how long they intend to work as an independent, two-thirds (68%) planned to remain independent for more than three years – up from only 32% when we first conducted the survey in 2002.

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