Despite the stresses and uncertainties around self-employment and the gig economy, research by INSEAD suggests the self-employed have notably better mental health, happiness and energy than the rest of the workforce.
Researchers from the French-headquartered global business school compared the experiences of self-employed Britons compared with the wider UK population. It found that on virtually every measure, self-employed people performed higher than the general population.
Presenting their findings in the paper The Effects of Self and Temporary Employment on Mental Health: The role of the Gig Economy in the UK, they found that people working as part of the gig economy consistently had better concentration, were more confident, had higher feelings of self-worth. They also tended to drink less alcohol, and performed better on mental health measures.
“We recorded a consistent pattern of improvements across drivers of mental health,” the report’s co-author, Mark Stabile, said.
“Self and temporary employment support the ability to concentrate, not being constantly under strain, confidence, belief in self-worth and happiness.”
According to Professor Stabile, a professor of economics at INSEAD and academic director at the Stone Centre for Wealth Inequality, the researchers used a mental health score called GHQ to compare individuals, using a scale from 0 to 36.
Being self-employed delivered a 33 per cent higher mental score than the wider workforce, or 8 points difference on the scale.
Temporary workers score lower
The report cautioned, however, that some precarious jobs, such as temporary roles, likely offer less control and satisfaction, and as such may be detrimental to mental health.
“Self-employment is positively and significantly associated with mental health and with physical activity. It is also positively associated with alcohol spending,” the report stated.
“In contrast, temporary employment is negatively associated with health: indeed, temporary jobs are negatively associated with the GHQ... and positively associated with the uptake of sleeping pills.
“Combining these two groups [still] yields a positive and significant coefficient on mental health (although smaller than self-employed alone).”
Implications for the workforce
The research, Professor Stabile said, gives individuals, employers and regulators “food for thought” about how to provide work in ways which positively influence mental health.
“This paper offers food for thought for employers, full-time employees and unemployed worldwide. The more people feel they have flexibility and control in the job, the bigger the chance you will see improvements in mental health,” he said.
“We need to help workers shape the way they earn a living everywhere.”
Surveys, businesses share similar findings
INSEAD’s findings match the results of other surveys into the effects self-employment has on health and wellbeing.
A poll of 1,000 Australians last year found that self-employed people were more than twice as likely to rate their career satisfaction at nine out of 10 or greater than employees — despite them spending more hours working each week than employees.
Earlier this year, several Australian SMEs and family-owned businesses revealed their approach to boosting sense of purpose and satisfaction among their respective employees, and how doing so has and is achieving results for their bottom line.
Meanwhile, a CGU Insurance poll of 2,000 people found that the greatest barrier to becoming self-employed in Australia relates to a perceived negative culture around ambition and so-called “tall poppy syndrome”.
Not always the case
However, Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, told My Business last year that the stresses associated with running a business combined with a culture of “just suck it up” can work to reverse this trend.
She added that a reluctance on the part of business owners to seek help and support when they need it most is also a common problem.
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, or you’re worried about someone else and feel that urgent professional support is needed, contact your local doctor or one of the 24/7 crisis agencies below:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.