Fractional Work: The Pros & Cons from the Perspective of the Worker

“I don’t like work–no man does–but I like what is in the work–the chance to find yourself. Your own reality–for yourself not for others…”

― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness


  • Fractional work is not for everyone. Being able to say that ‘I am my own boss’ sounds a lot sexier than the reality often is.
  • Fractional work involves working on multiple part-time yet extended engagements simultaneously.
  • Fractional work, which is much more common today with the acceptance of remote work, is not magically better than a W-2 job.
  • There are pros and cons to this way of working, which I lay out below (reflecting my biases.)
  • You should attach the appropriate weight to each of them in the context of your values, hopes, desires and life constraints.


Don’t You Miss Working for a Company?

When I reconnect with people I have met along my career journey, I am often asked, “What are you doing these days?” They know from my LinkedIn that I don’t have a regular W-2 job.

For the past three years, I have worked as a fractional CFO/COO. My clients are small companies (less than 100 employees.) They hire me because they want input from someone who knows the details of finance and can combine that technical skill with strategic insights.  And, they want access to that resource without paying for the person on  a full-time basis.

The follow-up questions I often get, particularly from those in the same field as me (i.e. finance, operations, strategy) include:

  • Do you like fractional work?
  • Don’t you miss feeling like you are part of something?
  • Would you ever take a full-time role again?

What follows are my thoughts on the pros and cons of fractional work. Each of us needs to make our own decision on whether we place more weight on the pros or the cons. I hope to present ‘fractional work’ in an even-handed light. What follows is based on my experiences. I welcome feedback from others who have additive thoughts or different experiences.


What is Fractional Work?

Being a ‘fractional worker’ means working part-time for several employers at the same time. You are the service provider and they (the employer) are the client.

The difference from being ‘part time’ lies in having more than one employer. And the strict difference from being a freelancer, is that you have an ongoing relationship with the employer that extends beyond a single project. In reality some of my work is project-based. Not necessarily by choice, but if I am helping a company with a fundraise, then the paid work can end if the capital raise is not successful.

My personal view is that the goal of all fractional engagements is to transition your client to a full-time resource when that is warranted.

The acceptance of ‘remote work’ as normal has made the transition to fractional work much easier.


Positives of Fractional Work

  1. Less Office Politics. Most of us dislike office politics. I was particularly poor at this game. As a fractional worker there is no promotion on the line, nor any department budget to protect or increase. Few status markers that are on the line. As a result there is less need to act in a political manner. That does not mean there is no reason to or time spent massaging egos, but rather a lot less than in a full-time role.
  1. Easier to say ‘No’. Employers know that fractional employees have multiple clients. This awareness empowers the fractional worker to say ‘No’ more frequently to specific requests from the client. You can’t always say ‘No’; otherwise the client will find a different resource. But, there is greater freedom to work around your schedule.
  1. Greater Agency.  I define agency as having a feeling of control over the actions you take. The act of beginning a fractional work relationship requires an active choice (by both sides.) I have learned to define the scope of work in the initial engagement…not too narrowly to scare a client…but enough so that I have the option to tell the client that a new request is outside my specialty or would require additional payment. There is simply more agency in a fractional role than in full-time employment.
  1. More Learning Opportunities. I love learning. It is what brings me intellectual joy and satisfaction. Being a successful fractional executive requires learning under pressure (i.e. in a short timeframe) on a regular basis.

    In fractional CFO/COO work, clients often ask for input about anything and everything. While I am happy to tell my clients I am not an expert in the topic they asked about, I also enjoy the chance to try to answer the question.

  2. ‘Good Enough’ is Easier to Embrace. I have high standards with regard to my work product. My experience has taught me that the final 10-20% of a project can consume over 50% of the time. Because I dont’t work on mission critical projects (e.g. those with life and death implications,) I am able to decide when the last 10% is not worth the effort (both for me and for the client.) Most clients who ask a question of me want to be pointed in the right direction, rather than be given the exact vector. Often because they too realize there is no single, knowable, right outcome.
  3. Diversification. By having multiple employers you will spread your metaphorical eggs among different baskets. So if one ‘egg’ breaks (i.e. your client runs out of money or decides they no longer need your services) it does not mean 100% of your income goes away.

    Initially moving from full-time to fractional work will likely result in lower income, because it takes time to build up a full slate of clients. Often people mitigate this risk by taking on fractional work while working at their full-time job.


Both Positive and Negative

Your individual personality and preferences will determine whether you see these features as more positive or more negatives.

  1. No Active People Management. If you like managing people (which I do, to a point), you will need to find other avenues to exercise that muscle. For example I have chosen to take on mentorship roles (paid and volunteer) as well as sell my services as a coach. While these are not the same thing as management, they allow me to practice some aspects of management that appealed to me.
  1. Selling is Required‘Being your own boss’ on an ongoing basis requires signing up new clients. That means selling your services and yourself — how and why you are different from everyone else. It is akin to interviewing for a new job. Much more regularly than in the W-2 context though with fewer interview loops. And you need to be prepared to be ghosted and turned down often.
  1. No Accountability Partner. Part of reporting to someone else, even if that is a Board of Directors or the CEO, means having an accountability partner. Someone to work with you to set goals, motivate you when things are not going so well, and hold you accountable. There are many days I wish I had partners in my business to help energize me.

    One option is to find your own executive coach to help on this front. Or find others in a similar situation who are looking for something similar and collaborate as the ‘accountability partner’ to each other.

  2. Increased Breadth of Work.  In a typical senior role there are other people working under you doing a lot of the grunt work. Fractional work requires being much deeper in the weeds at certain times, while still being asked highly strategic questions at other times. I spend a huge amount of time in Excel and Quickbooks in my current role. Sometimes understanding the details and feeling fluent with the details of a business is satisfying. Often less so, particularly when my weekend entails lots of spreadsheet time.
  3. Faster Feedback Loops. Fractional worker performance is evaluated on a more regular basis than  W-2 employees.  This occurs because there is more friction in the interaction. In part because you send invoices monthly drawing attention to your value proposition. And, because most fractional contracts have a specified term (i.e. not open-ended employment forever) there is a need to evaluate performance more regularly.


Negatives of Fractional Work

  1. Context Switching. I find this the biggest challenge of fractional work.

    Each day I work on projects for several clients (live interaction and/or work production creation.) To bring my A-Game to each client requires reminding myself of their individual business challenges and where we left off in the last interaction. And that requires additional energy. I was not aware of this challenge when I took on fractional work. I am still working on scheduling time for and creating a better documentation process (akin to notes a doctor or therapist would write after a session.)

  2. Not Part of a Team. While most workers have lost a sense of community due to COVID (remote or hybrid work becoming the norm), there is even less of a sense of belonging to a team as a fractional worker. Belonging is a fundamental human need that provides deep satisfaction.

    Identifying as a team member is particularly helpful when longer hours are required or when seeking some friendship and connection through work. While I have built good work friendships with my longer-term clients and have an e-mail address / slack log-in, I am still an outsider.

  3. Less Flexibility. In many companies, people are cross-trained (at least partially) to take on the responsibilities of their team members for a period of time. Fractional executives generally have no back-ups. And often clients still expect work to get done. So it becomes a lot harder to take long vacations and be fully offline for extended periods of time.
  1. Higher Peak Demand. Every job has peaks and valleys in workload. When you combine multiple fractional roles, the peaks get taller. Given most companies have similar schedules for financial work (i.e. monthly close and reporting, quarterly board meetings and goal setting off-sites, annual planning etc.), the peaks tend to cluster creating certain weeks and months when one can get really stretched and have to work much, much more than 40 hours in a week.
  1. Loss of Valuable Benefits. There are no  benefits — the most valuable being healthcare and paid time off — in a fractional career. These benefits are easy to take for granted and undervalue because they are not explicitly included in their $$ value in job offers. Companies often incur costs of $500-$800 for individual health benefits and $1500 – $2500 for a family. In a fractional career these benefits have to be purchased with after-tax income (i.e. they actually cost 33% – 67% more.) With rare exceptions there is no paid time off in the fractional world. If you were to take 4 weeks off in a row (hard to do in a regular job too), you would theoretically not be billing any clients.

    Fractional workers need to add the cost of these valuable benefits to their hourly rate.

  2. Administrative Work. In a W-2 role your paycheck is deposited regularly into your bank account. You don’t need to do anything to get paid after the initial HR onboarding. Fractional workers need to undertake additional administrative work to get paid. Track hours. Bill clients. Follow-up on collections. Provide additional paperwork such as W-9s.
  3. Transient Work. Fractional work is more transient. On the margin, it is easier emotionally for companies to cut back or eliminate fractional roles. Companies make a lower level of commitment when hiring a fractional worker rather than a full-time person.

    Secondly, clients will and should move on from a fractional relationship  if you do your job well. Success hopefully results in the business growing, raising more capital and hiring full-timers to take over your responsibility.

    So you need to be prepared for change.


Concluding Thoughts

Fractional work is not for everyone. It is  particularly hard if you have a young family and are the primary income earner for the family. It is easier to embrace when you have some meaningful career experience, because those who buy your services want solutions quickly, and tend to equate experience with expertise.

Fractional work is not a path to getting wealthy quickly. Not that I believe there is any such path — those that promote a formula based on their own success or that of others they know forget that luck and timing played as much a role as consistent, hard work.

Choose the fractional path if you believe a portfolio of work will bring you more fulfillment than working for just one employer. And if you enjoy meeting new people, hearing about their business challenges, learning about new business models, and then offering potential solutions.

If you are a fractional executive (in Finance, Operations, Strategy and People Operations) and want support along the journey, I recommend becoming a member so we can support you in your career journey.

Aditya Dehejia

Adi’s experiences as a CFO and HR leader in start-up companies inspired him to start the CxO Leadership Accelerator. He saw firsthand the challenges in building a satisfying career, the importance of leaders in developing people, and the difficulty in building broad business acumen while excelling in your functional role. Prior to his operating career in start-ups, Adi held roles in a growth capital investment firm and in the corporate development and strategy department at a Fortune 500 company. Adi is an active volunteer mentor in the FirstRound Capital and TechStars networks as well as within his University alumni communities. Adi was born in India and immigrated to the US at age ten. He attended Princeton University (graduated with a degree in Politics) and the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He lives in the suburbs of New York City and has two adult sons and two lovable, crazy dogs.

1 Comment

  1. Beth Herndon on March 12, 2023 at 9:10 pm

    Thanks for sharing your perspective of both sides of the grass. It definitely isn’t for everyone! Find the grass you enjoy.

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