Running a small business is a challenging undertaking, especially when we’re encouraged to grow, hire and manage staff, expand premises, and all of that. Solo working I have found is engaging, energising and fulfilling, but something happens when the self-employed work we love so much becomes more than its inherent technical aspects. Why should it become more than that? Who said you must create a global monster or even a small version of that? The truth is that there is no imperative to grow a business beyond oneself, and the push to do so can be kind of a spoof. We can’t attribute the spoof to anyone in particular; it just seems to be everywhere. It’s the hustle culture.
Successful solo workers are at constant risk of falling foul to this social narrative based upon a capitalist perpetual growth ideology. That, of course, is nonsense because it invariably blinds us to the fact that there has never been a growth curve plotted that didn’t have a downward trend. And so, in this pursuit of growth, predicting the dip becomes impossible.
Now you might be energised by the prospect of perpetual growth or even just growth for the time being. But there are inherent risks involved, and those risks impact our sense of wellbeing. There are also enormous benefits in pushing beyond our limits, and so there is value in the pursuit too. However, there is little doubt that the nature of the work changes when a small business grows beyond the individual and management of staff becomes a primary component. It’s what I have found to be accurate, and so, this forms the basis for the research I am undertaking.
For work and organisational psychology, the examination of happiness at work, or job-specific wellbeing, is a significant area of research. It seeks to understand the human behaviours, attitudes, and environmental conditions influencing our wellbeing at work. Although self-employment is, an area examined, it’s not very broad. After all, only 15% of adult working people in the EU are self-employed. In the US, it’s 6%. Remarkably low considering the States is supposed to be the land of opportunity. But maybe that’s a spoof too.
Anyway, my research is setting out to understand the conditions influencing the wellbeing of self-employed people. It’s an area of research for which I have a lot of energy given that I am self-employed too. I have been so since 2000.
I hypothesise that self-employment leads to high levels of wellbeing amongst the self-employed. I also hypothesise that self-employment allows for the fulfilment of basic psychological needs. Basic Psychological Need Theory1, one of the six mini-theories of Self-Determination Theory, suggests that basic psychological need is a psychological nutrient that is essential for an individual’s adjustment, integrity, and growth. This framework's basic psychological needs consist of three components; autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Additionally, and this is a significant element of the study, I want to discover how supervision of employees impacts this sense of wellbeing. I am also looking at the impact of the number of employees under supervision, the length of time self-employed, and the level of social support self-employed people receive.
So, if you are self-employed or have been at some point in the past, employ people or not, maybe you can take part or share with friends who are.