Thursday, 18 February 2010

What's The Difference?

Some people don't want to be self-employed, which seems bizarre to me. I can think of two friends in particular who have both made a success of freelance work in response to unemployment, but at the same time were desperate to get a 'proper job'. They longed for camaraderie, teamwork, and regular hours, while I dread office politics, idiots making stupid decisions that I have to work with, and unbearable constraints on my life and free will.

I love being self-employed, even at times like this when I'm working 70-80 hours a week. I can't imagine ever having a 'proper job' again - in fact, I strongly suspect I'm unemployable. But I know I'm an asset to my clients, because I work responsively and creatively, meet deadlines, stay within budget, and produce good quality outputs. So I doubt I'll ever be out of work.

The funny thing is, the employed people I know also work responsively and creatively, meet deadlines, and so on. So what's the difference? It's tempting to say that those who choose a freelance life are more self-reliant, have more initiative etc etc - yet I know people who choose employment who are more self-reliant than I am, and at least as good at motivation and organisation and decision-making and all those other essential skills. (They are also, before you suggest it, control freaks like me too.)

Is it just a matter of preference, then, in the same way that some people prefer apple juice to orange juice, while for others it's the other way round? Or are there other factors? Sometimes people say to me 'I'd like to be self-employed, but I'm too worried about how I'd pay the mortgage/bring up the kids/manage the transition.' I know a number of people, like me, who started out in employment and then became self-employed almost by accident - and loved it. But then there are others who chose self-employment from the start, or at a later point in their career.

I'm interested in the changing landscape of work in our society. Here in the UK, self-employment is on the increase, as is part-time employment. More people are living patchwork lives, doing bits of this and bits of that, fitting work around caring for dependents, or around other things such as, ooh, to take a random example, writing. So I'd like to conduct a highly scientific survey in my comments box. Do you work? (And yes, as far as I'm concerned, unpaid domestic work counts as work.) Are you employed? Self-employed? Full-time? Part-time? To what extent is your working life a matter of choice or of necessity?


Gemma Noon said...

I work part time (16 hours). I have a 1year old son who takes up more time and energy than my office hours do. Just over half my salary goes on childcare, and the rest pays the mortgage. My husband's salry covers everything else. I run the literary project, which I don't get paid for, around my work / child commitments. When I have five minutes, I write. The writing is probably the least successful part of my patchwork life, but the bit I love the most.

My job is considerably lower level than what I did pre-pregnancy. Back then I was an area manager working 45+ hours a week. It was stressful, and although I didn't love the job, I loved the career, if that makes sense. Having said that, being the sole administrator in my own office for two days a week is exactly what I need - I don't have to think, and they pay me.

When my son is older I'll go back fulltime to my old career (unless I'm making a liveable wage as a writer, in which case I'll try to move back over part time). This style is okay for now, although sometimes I struggle to keep all the balls in the air. Having said that, I'm getting better at it, so maybe I'll keep it up in the long term.

Gemma Noon said...

I should clarify - my son is my favourite bit of my life, I meant writing is my favourite "work" part!

Debi said...

I love love love my self-employed life. I do sometimes have the inevitable anxieties round the insecurity of never knowing whether the work will come in or not, but, like you, I wouldn't/couldn't swap it for the world.

Apart from anything else, it's brought you into my life!

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

I tried self employment and didn't like it. There were extra factors, such as having it forced on me rather than choosing it (I was made redundant unexpectedly), and not having any decent revenue streams in place before I started, but on balance I wouldn't choose it again unless I was very VERY sure there was an income in it for me. This is the biggest downside for me: the lack of certainty.

This is mainly because I too am a control freak, and that means that I like to be able to plan financial incomings and outgoings several months into the future, and to know that the income will continue to be there indefinitely beyond that. I also want to know that the unexpected - illness, death etc, won't take me by surprise. So sick pay, pensions etc are a big plus for me.

Another part of it for me is self motivation. I can be self motivated, and have achieved an awful lot in my life by so being, but I can't necessarily rely on it. It comes and goes, and a "proper job" provides a safety net for the slack periods.

Another problem I had whilst trying to be self employed (and failing miserably - I earnt a paltry amount during the whole two years) was deciding what the hell to do next. This really freaked me out. Nothing I was doing was obviously going to earn me money, and there were just too many options for how I might bring in the next bit of income. None of them were obvious winners and all of them would have required significant time investment, with no guarantee of return. I found myself in a permanent quagmire of indecision, never able to stick to anything long enough to find whether it would work or not. Again, it was the element of risk that terrified me.

For me, an employer represents security and comfort. It also means that the buck doesn't stop here and I don't have to take sole responsibility for my and my family's future.

I am currently in full time employment, and as well as the security, I enjoy the contact with other people. I also enjoy another fact about my current job (although this isn't necessarily a self-employed vs employer thing), which is that I have no choice over whether I do the work. If I'm there, I have to do it. When I was freelance, it was much too easy to skive, which didn't make me happy.

I don't find lack of control over working hours, etc to be an issue. I think the apparent control that freelancers have can be an illusion. They are rarely truly in control, as they mainly have to work at the behest of clients, but also they have to take whatever work they can get, and fit it in wherever they can, in order to pay bills. And they never really know where the next work is coming from or when it will arrive. One form of control lies in being able to predict the basic shape of your days and weeks for months and years into the future, which I think is more likely if you have an employer.

Another big thing in favour of not being self-employed, for me, is the contact with other people. Again it depends what you do, but as you have mentioned in your post, some people (me included) don't like the isolation involved in self-employment. I like having daily contact with other people, as well as the structure and routine of physically leaving the house for a new location each day (which you've also mentioned).

I also cycle to work, which creates automatic exercise which would require more effort and therefore be less likely if I worked from home.

I'm not ruling out self employment again in the future, but my experiences thus far have made me a lot more wary.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

As for fitting work around other things... I used to fit office work around writing, then around writing and children, then I fitted freelance writing around children, now I don't write any more but fit a new full time job around children...

I think you just manage things the best you can. I prefer being busy. I find it hard to fit things around each other but get bored if I have too much time / space. But however my life has been organised, I've always preferred to have specific allotted times and places for each activity, even if they changed from one day to the next. If I'm looking after children, it gets my whole attention. Likewise paid work and writing. I like to focus on one thing at a time.

Debs said...

I used to run a couple of companies when I was married to my ex-husband and although the hours were long, I loved it. I had to move on because working with him was too tedious after the divorce.

I'm now employed and work 27.5 hours a week. I don't mind the work I do, most of the time, but I'd much rather work for myself. Unfortunately, I need the salary I earn to cover the mortgage, uni fees, etc. So, for the foreseeable future this is what I'll be doing.

Queenie said...

Well, I'm in awe of the lot of you, because you all do everything you do AND have children. I'm sure if I had children, I wouldn't be able to do anything else.

It's really interesting to see how people juggle their lives. You all fit so much in, it's amazing. And the variations in balance between 'choice' and 'needs must' is fascinating, too. Thank you all!

womagwriter said...

I work full time (35 hours) for a company I've been with for 22 years. For the last 11 years I've worked primarily at home, with a day a week in the office - more recently that has changed to 1 day a month.

I wouldn't want to be self-employed - too much responsibility. Yes I have responsibility in my job but obviously not as much as if I was self-employed. Also, my company's a good one which really look after their employees. I get an annual bonus, discount in our shops and numerous other perks. Would miss them too much if I left!

I began home-working when the kids were little, when I found I was hardly seeing them because of the long commute. Since then we've moved further away from my base office, so I've burned my bridges and will have to be a home-worker for life.

It is a juggling act. All about getting the right balance, and working to live, not living to work. I used to be part time but our current massive mortgage forced me to go back to full time working. The only thing I'd change would be to cut my hours down again, and give more time for writing!

womagwriter said...

I should add, 35 hours is the working time. Doesn't include breaks or the overtime I tend to end up doing, or the overnight support I also end up doing...

Nowhere near the 70-80 hours a week you're currently doing, Queenie!

Anonymous said...
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SpiralSkies said...

I used to work for myself. Man, I was a great boss. 'The sun's shining, sit outside this afternoon with a book,' my bossly self would instruct my workly self. And then I'd sit, sobbing, at the pc until 4am so as to meet deadlines. Useless.

Now? Very full time, counting cows and typing things about bits of grass. Headpopping legal stuff for around 45 hours a week, all in, what with missed lunchbreaks and never leaving on time. Let's not mention the Saturday morning a month on top of that.

The Teens obviously take up plentiful time too but hey, standing on a rugby touchline for 4 hours on a Sunday morning is just the thing after an arduous week.

Ouf, I feel a bit weak just thinking about it all.

I tell you what though... I'd rather be a poor writer than a poor cow-counter any day.

LilyS said...

I work full time which i find stifling as it leaves me little time for the things i really enjoy like writing, shopping, family life etc etc. I couldnt afford to work part time but weirdly I would feel out of the loop at work if I did.

Queenie said...

The variations in interaction between people's 'working' and 'non-working' lives is quite astonishing. I'm sure it's not so long since most people were employed in jobs outside the home with set hours. If I was an academic, I'd be interested in studying this.

Pat said...

It was quite amusing - in an ironic sort of way - when I retired from my business with one partner and 6 or so staff, to work in a charity shop as dogsbody - for free, and make the coffee. Five years was long enough:)

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of a patchwork career - I call mine a portfolio career, and like others couldn't be self employed full time as it would make me too anxious. I work 50% in my 'proper' job and then about 15% at other stuff, and then yes domestic, lagomorph stuff. And never as much writing as I'd like to....