Stress, Control, Life Expectancy and Freelancing

BBC Radio 4’s programme, The Life Scientific, has a fascinating interview with Sir Michael Marmot best known for the Whitehall studies which led to his work on the social gradient of health.  Broadly, Marmot found that – contrary to popular expectations – people in lower status jobs suffered higher levels of stress than those in more senior roles (despite the obvious additional levels of responsibility).

Talking on the programme, Marmot explains that in fact there are two dimensions: those on Control and Demand.  A low Demand role (say a receptionist) could be relatively low-stress but the combination of higher Demand and low levels of Control lead to poisonous levels of stress and stress-related disease leading, in turn, to lower life expectancy.

An interesting aside is that an American study has shown how people with PhDs have a higher life expectancy than those with Masters degrees; the hypothesis being that PhDs have greater control over their research-focused work than the more directed work style of Masters degree-holders.

What are the implications for freelancers, interims and sovereign professional?  I’m guessing that with the greater freedom and control which freelancers enjoy, we are – overall – less stressed than we would otherwise be; despite the obvious stresses of wondering where the next gig is coming from, all the uncertainty and irregular demands.


About Andrew Munro

An independent business consultant, interim manager and writer, Andrew operates through his company, Burning Pine Ltd (
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