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Who's the boss? An exploration of the family lives of self employed people

21 December 2015

Cover image for Who's the boss?Many self-employed people are happy with the choice they have made to become self-employed, and are more likely to report high levels of job satisfaction than employees. This extends to self-employed parents, who tend to find that self-employment enables them to split their time more flexibly between their work and family to achieve a balance that suits them.

However, they have varying degrees of success in achieving a good work-life balance. Some are unwilling to compromise on spending time with their family which can lead to lack of time investment in their work. Others find that investing too much time in their work may lead to missed family events, holidays cut short or taking little time off at all.

Self-employment brings additional challenges for families such as learning to manage the household’s finances on a fluctuating income and deciding when and how much time to take off, for instance, for family holidays. We found that self-employed people take much less time off for annual leave or for the birth of a new baby than employed people.

Our research suggests that for some this is driven by the prospect of having no income for the time they take off, but among those trying to establish a business, the potential negative impact that taking leave can have on business outweighs the loss of wages.

Crucially, although, our research suggests that while they are more likely to work longer hours than employees and to work weekends, the number of hours that they spend at work is less significant to them than how much control they feel they have over the nature of their work and their working patterns. Some of our participants have found creative solutions to help balance their work and home lives while, for some, control has been eroded, if it was ever there at all. It is when control is lost that either the business or family ties may begin to languish.

The recommendations that we make in Who's the boss? [ 1.2 mb] focus on improvements that local organisations as well as self-employed people themselves can implement to help ensure their work and home lives thrive.

We recommend:

  • Recommendation 1: Support through the parental leave system should aligned for employed and self-employed parents

  • Recommendation 2:  Creation of “trusted cover” referral databases for work substitutes

  • Recommendation 3:  Creation of networks for self-employed parents to make arrangements for childcare

  • Recommendation 4: Creation and expansion of training for self-employed people on ‘softer’ business skills

  • Recommendation 5:  Development of creative workspace solutions across the country

  • Recommendation 6: Reaching out to self-employed people regarding tax free childcare