Will quitting the day job make you happier?

Business Insights
16/05/2018

Study finds that being your own boss is best for wellbeing.


Research by AXA Business Insurance busts some of the most prevalent myths about being self-employed in today’s Britain. According to the survey, part of the company’s annual Stress Index, those working for themselves are less stressed, have a better work-life balance and better mental wellbeing than everyone else. Pain points did emerge, however: being on call 24/7 and fluctuating monthly incomes were the twin bugbears of self-employed life.


Ditching the boss is the top reason people want to become self-employed, according to the company’s findings. Seventy-eight per cent of people who aim to go freelance in the next year named ‘being their own boss’ the top motivation: by comparison, just 46 per cent seek more money and 66 per cent – a better work-life balance. The company estimates that almost seven million people are poised to become self-employed in the UK.


But will quitting the hierarchy make you happier? In a separate survey by the company, 82 per cent of self-employed people said life was indeed ‘much improved’ after going it alone. Just seven per cent said they found life harder as their own boss.


Mental wellbeing was a particular area of improvement: six in ten employees suffer from work-related stress, compared to four in ten people working for themselves. People in office-based occupations noted the biggest reduction in stress after quitting their workplace. The gap was narrower for more hands-on trades, one in five builders said the client is a tougher task-master than the boss.


Overall, just 16 per cent of self-employed people say their clients are more ‘difficult’ to deal with than their old bosses. They do prove more intrusive though: two thirds of freelancers said their clients show no respect for ‘working hours’, expecting emails and calls answered in the evenings, during holidays and weekends.


Meanwhile, the happiest age to become self-employed is in the late thirties and early forties. An overwhelming 93 per cent of people in this age group say their life has improved as a result.


However, the romance does lessen as the business itself ages: people in business longer than five years are twice as likely to miss their old workplaces as recent startups.


While many dream of starting a business, summoning up sufficient self-belief is the biggest barrier. When people were asked what is stopping them from starting up, half put it down to lack of self-confidence rather than financial or practical considerations.


Some indicated they are locked in a vicious cycle: 36 per cent said their current employment has damaged their self-confidence, making it harder to leave and start their business. Others – 30 per cent – traced their lower self-esteem back to their school days (either ‘bullies’, ‘teachers’ or ‘classmates’) and 22 per cent quoted poor mental health.


“Some people are attracted to self-employment as a route out of a damaging workplace situation. Whatever your motivation, timing is crucial to success or failure in self-employment. It’s a fine art recognising when you’re ready: mentally strong enough, financially able and enthused enough. We know people often suffer loneliness, fears of inadequacy, money worries and long hours when they first start up, so you do need to be battle ready.”


“I don’t think we need to bash bosses too much though: most people aren’t talking about escape, more about simply reaching a point where they’ve outgrown their workplace, bosses included.” - Gareth Howell, Managing Director, AXA Insurance.


Best jobs for being your own boss (by % rating life improved)

1. Architect
2. Surveyor
3. Engineer
4. Chef
5. IT consultant
6. Agricultural trades
7. Graphic designer
8. Accountant
9. Joiner
10. Marketing consultant


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