Are the self-employed really less stressed?

Being your own boss comes with its perks. Unless you're a gig worker, of course.

by Arun Kakar
Last Updated: 16 Nov 2017

In one of the least surprising revelations this week, AXA found that a lot of us are stressed at work. The insurer’s stress index said that nine in ten of those who work for someone else describe themselves as stressed to some extent.  Aside from noting just how high that figure is, the same was true of only 78% of self-employed people surveyed.

This might come as a surprise. After all, surely it’s less of a burden to put in a nine-to-five rather than run the entire shop yourself, with all the stresses that come with it?

Dispelling the Myths

Aside from the strange finding that Cardiff is the UK’s most stressed city (possibly a result of its modest sample size of 4,000 UK adults, but who knows...), the AXA report presents self-employment as a way of taking control of your destiny.

 Being a hostage to uncertain income streams and odd hours seems not as much of a problem as you’d think. In fact, two-thirds of employees worry about the insecurity of their jobs long term, against only half of self-employed workers. The proportion of self-employed people saying they were stressed about their work life balance, meanwhile, was 20% less.  

Being your own boss appears to be good for your mental health and wellbeing too. Only 11% are concerned about their mental health as opposed to 30% of people working for someone else, while 4% of self-employed people say they are stressed all the time, against 11% of employees. 

‘Ultimately, these findings aren’t hugely surprising on a human level. If we don't feel in control of our own destiny, it makes us nervous, ‘says Pam Bateson, CEO of business mentors Thrive Partners. ‘A big part of people succeeding in organisations is giving them the same feeling of self-control and empowerment that the self-employed have about their future.’

 AXA Direct’s Managing Director Gareth Howell echoed this sentiment. He said: ‘When we asked people about their motivations for starting a business, ‘control’ was the word that came up time and again, in four in ten verbatim answers.’               

Despite these figures, it’s still the case that that running a business requires round the clock dedication. If you’re thinking of leaving your job in favour of a less stressful life as an entrepreneur, don’t jump the gun just yet, as two thirds of self-employed people say that they take correspondence from customers outside of normal working hours. Not that they necessarily mind...

 ‘The interpretation of the study is critical,’ said Chris Pearse, who runs Corporate Magician. ‘Work-life balance is an irrelevance for many self-employed as they love what they do. ‘

And if you’re gigging it?

Does this wellbeing boost for the self-employed mean the rise of the gig economy – currently estimated to contain five million people in the UK – is a good thing?

While it may be difficult to tell who is or isn’t a gig worker right now (as far as the courts are currently concerned, Uber drivers are employees but Deliveroo riders aren’t), it does appear that giggers don’t gain all the benefits of their conventionally self-employed peers.

‘We see a higher level of stress in this group, often connected to coping with an unpredictable income but not being their own boss in the traditional sense,’ Howell tells MT. ‘The situation is a bit different for those who are truly self-employed and run the business they work for.  They too have to balance an income that waxes and wanes throughout the year, but the major difference is that they are the ones in the driving seat. This may well explain the lower levels of perceived stress among them – simply having the greater sense of control over their own work.’

Image credit: Mosieur-J-Flickr

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