Self Employment – The Road to Work/Life Balance?

The latest Insync/Red Balloon Dream Employers Survey has named Google as the number one Dream Employer of the year.  Interestingly, however, those surveyed have chosen themselves as their employer of choice with self employment ranking as the number two option.

While the survey has a healthy spattering of dynamic, young and young-focussed companies, for the last two years self employment has ranked at number two in the Dream Employer stakes.

The survey results show that work/life balance is still a huge part of the psyche of most with 37% of respondents citing it as one of the major reasons they choose their employer.  That said, the perception is that self-employment does, for many at least, allow some flexibility to lifestyles.

And it’s women leading the charge into self employment with now over one third of businesses in NSW alone being started by women.

Co-founders of job website HireMeUp.com.au, Allison Baker and Fiona Anson are of different generations but have both chosen to work for themselves because of the flexibility it brings to their individual needs.

“While no one I know in business would dispute that it’s a hard job with long hours, the flexibility it brings is the big benefit,” says Ms. Anson, a working mum.  “I can be there for my son, in the mornings and afternoons and for school events and the like, even if it means I then work after he’s in bed – and until midnight if need be.  It’s the flexibility to do that that is the benefit because, in the majority of cases, you just can’t do that in a job.”

For Ms. Baker, 26, work flexibility is her choice because of the variety it brings to her life.  “I can work to fit around my life, rather than trying to live around work.  As a business owner, I work long hours, more than I would in a job, however the flexibility of choosing my hours, along with the variety, is the big plus.”

Both cite the increasing numbers of female job seekers, particularly Gen Xers, visiting their site as evidence of a desire to move to work flexibility.  For Gen X, work life balance remains the most crucial issue predominantly because they’re of an age where many have young families and large mortgages.  The mortgages ensure they have to work but the families mean that the focus is on finding the right balance.

A 2011 survey by the Australian Institute of Management (Vic/Tas) underlines this. The survey found that ‘flexible working arrangements’ was the most important factor to retain women in the workforce, particularly for Gen X.  More than 70 percent of respondents indicated that having a child affects a woman’s ability to achieve her career goals, and many said their organisation’s practices for transitioning women back to work after maternity leave needed improvement.  This has resulted in women looking to other options, including self employment and part time work, to find the right balance.

And the work/life balance argument is also one given for why there are fewer women in senior executive positions, with 67% of the respondents of the AIM’s survey citing family commitments and 54% citing inflexible working arrangements as their reasons for moving away from corporate roles.

So is self employment the answer?  The trends seem to indicate that many women think it is.

Fiona Anson comments “A huge majority of my friends and business colleagues are self employed now.  It’s a huge swing from twenty years ago when most of us had jobs.”  So, in her opinion, why the big shift?

We’re not under any illusions that working for yourself is the easy way out.  But it provides what’s important to us and that’s flexibility for our family and other life commitments.”  So has she and her posse achieved work life balance?

“Saying we’ve achieved the perfect “balance” might be a bit of a stretch, especially when I find myself still working at midnight all too often,” she laughs. “But working for yourself provides a lot of what a job can’t – and most of the women I know think it’s worth it.”

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