Are Self-Employed People Happier?

Being empowered has long been identified as a major source of happiness in our professional lives, so it’s perhaps to be expected that self-employed people are happier than most.  That’s exactly what a recent study from the Universities of Sheffield and Exeter found.

The study found that self-employed people not only found work more rewarding but also enjoyed it more than their peers in full-time work.  This is despite often working longer hours and having less job security than their employed peers.

The analyses found that self-employed workers were more engaged at work because of the freedom they enjoyed to innovate and control their work environment.

“Being engaged in their jobs makes people feel energised and pleased with their own contribution,” the authors say.  “Measuring how engaged people are in their work is therefore a really useful way to gauge their wellbeing and shows we must move beyond just looking at job satisfaction.”

Sense of control

The authors examined data from over 5,000 employed workers spread across the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand.  The workers derived from a range of sectors, including finance and education, with the workers covering four job grades, from non-managerial workers all the way up to directors.  The self-employed workers in the study worked in a number of sectors, including consultancy, education and retail.

The analysis found that self-employed people were generally much more engaged than their employed peers.  They also had more opportunities to innovate and achieve challenging ‘stretch’ targets.  By comparison, among the employed cohort, the least engaged and satisfied people were those at the lower end, for whom none of those things really applied.

“Professional workers who are self-employed really value the autonomy they have. They have the freedom to innovate, express their own views, have influence beyond their own role and compete with other companies and people,” the authors say.  “They really get to use their own expertise, so don’t seem to mind working long hours. They can find meeting high standards really fulfilling.”

The value of things such as autonomy and independence at work have long been established, and this study is a further reminder of their virtues.