Perceptions of the self-employed tend to go one of two ways. Either you believe self-employed workers have the best job ever, with a flexible schedule that allows them to take time off whenever they want, or you think they’re total workaholics, taking their job on vacation or to the family dinner table.
For many self-employed workers, it’s a balancing act between the two, particularly when working for yourself means working from home.
In an effort to better understand the unique challenges that self-employed people face—not just how they find time for vacations but what their routines are, what benefits they give themselves, and more—QuickBooks Self-Employed surveyed 1,000 self-employed individuals from around the U.S. More than half (56%) were full-time self-employed, while 19% had a part-time job on the side, and another 17% worked full-time and did their self-employed work part-time. The 8% remaining were no longer self-employed but had been so previously.
With those statistics in mind, here’s what these self-employed workers had to say about their work-life balance.
Self-employed workers have more time for family
According to survey results, one of the biggest benefits for self-employed workers is the extra time they have for family or themselves, with 50% saying they have more personal time and 55% claiming more family time. They’re also more likely than not to have more time for friends, vacations, and exercise. That’s despite the fact 35% of self-employed individuals end up working longer hours.
How has self-employment affected your work-life balance?
But not everyone is working 24/7. While 27% of respondents said they work the same hours as they did before, the largest percentage (38%) said they actually work less than they used to.
Has self-employment affected the hours you work?
For many, self-employment means more money and fewer hours
When asked why they’re working shorter hours, the No.1 reason given was “I earn more per hour than I used to.” Another popular choice was “for a better work-life balance.” While this doesn’t mean self-employment is always rosy (after all, 15% said they work shorter hours because they don’t have enough work to fill their days), these answers paint a picture of folks who are able to work shorter hours and make more doing it.
What is the primary reason you work shorter hours than before?
Furthermore, those who said they now work shorter hours also reported better personal relationships and higher levels of happiness—both fairly predictable findings.
More surprising were the answers given by those who now work longer hours than they used to. Besides earning more income, many of these individuals also reported feeling a greater sense of fulfillment and having lower levels of stress. While a higher income may be directly responsible for less stress, it’s possible these individuals simply don’t mind working more, so long as it’s work that’s meaningful to them.
How has self-employment affected you personally?
Others work longer hours because they love their job
While nearly 25% of self-employed workers are able to earn more per hour and therefore work less, slightly more self-employed workers face the opposite reality. Despite feelings of fulfillment, 26% of those working longer hours said they must do so in order to cover their expenses. Nearly 1 in 5 said they do it to stay competitive.
Still, not everyone who’s working more is doing so out of necessity. Many (23%) said they work longer hours simply because they love what they do.
What is the primary reason you work longer hours than before?
Running family errands doesn’t kill productivity
Many people choose self-employment because it gives them more control over their daily schedule. The good news for these individuals is the survey didn’t find any evidence to support the idea that a regular schedule makes you more successful. While 19% of self-employed workers overall said they stick to a daily routine, compared to 76% who only sometimes keep regular hours, both groups had the same percentage of people who felt successful in their ventures.
In other words, while 31% of respondents said they had business success and a regular daily schedule, another 31% said they didn’t have a regular daily schedule but were also successful. Such numbers show that despite popular opinion, a routine may not be everything.
Do you stick to the same schedule every day?
That’s great news for the 35% of self-employed people who often run errands during their workday. And most, it seems, are able to keep a firm line between work and their personal life, with just 10% concerned they’re not able to switch off from work. That’s despite the fact 86% of self-employed workers admit to being distracted by emails after they’ve technically clocked out for the day.
Time use and productivity
Self-employment requires personal sacrifice
Almost two-thirds of respondents (62%) admitted to making personal sacrifices for their work, though most (62%) are happy to do so. The reason? They find their work fulfilling. But there are limits. Less than a third (31%) say they’d rather be working than not working, even if that means, as 27% admit, they might not have enough money for everything they need in life. Work is important when you’re self-employed, but it isn’t everything.
Do you have to make personal sacrifices for your self-employed work
Why do you make personal sacrifices for work?
Vacations are more common than you think
Contrary to what many people might think, self-employed workers take vacations, though such vacations are typically short. Just 15% of respondents said they won’t be giving themselves a vacation this year. Those who do have a vacation on the books say they’ll take two weeks or fewer.
How much time off will you give yourself this year for a vacation?
In fact, the average number of vacation days self-employed workers gave themselves this year was 7.5—lower than the 11 days that’s typical for U.S. employees. And this isn’t a surprise. One in 10 self-employed workers (9%) admits to not taking a single vacation since they became self-employed, and the same number (9%) say it’s impossible for them to take time off. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 (22%) said it was hard to take time off, even if they planned it in advance.
How easy is it for you to take time off
How many years since your last vacation?
Fewer vacations but more flexibility
On the plus side, 27% of self-employed workers said they can take time off anytime they want, while another 42% said it’s easy to do so as long as they plan it in advance. This explains why 1 in 3 self-employed workers said they’ve had at least one vacation since 2017. And few said they work when they are on vacation. Only 1 in 5 (21%) admitted to working while they were away.
How do you feel about taking time off?
Many self-employed workers aren’t all that concerned about how much time off they get. Just 1 in 4 (25%) said they would like to take more time off. More concerning was the fact few self-employed workers would be able to take a family, maternity, or paternity leave if they needed to. Just 23%, roughly 1 in 5, said they could do this—just a few of the sacrifices self-employed workers make by choosing to go out on their own.
If you’re interested in reading more about the sacrifices self-employed workers make—from the percentage of people who miss out on family birthdays to the things that keep them up at night—you can check out this QuickBooks report.
Success is a work in progress
Self-employed workers make a lot of sacrifices, perhaps least among them the ability to take a long vacation. But why the resistance to treating themselves to some much-earned time off? Particularly for those who are earning more now per hour than they did before?
Some of these sacrifices could be attributed to a lack of confidence. In fact, when asked if they felt their business was successful, nearly 70% of self-employed workers said no. The reason for this could be two-fold.
On the one hand, not feeling successful could be attributed to the fact most self-employed workers (73%) don’t yet feel they’re making all the money they’d like to be earning. On the other hand, such results could simply point more toward the belief success is an end result—something you reach only once you’ve achieved every possible goal. If that’s the case, the fact that only 1 in 3 workers currently feels successful could point more toward future opportunity than current disappointment.
Personal and professional fulfillment
Few workers have benefited from this year’s tax cut to date
When asked how this year’s tax cuts impacted them, only a third (33%) of self-employed workers said they have benefited financially. Of these, most chose to put the extra money into personal savings (7%) or invest it into their business (7%), health insurance (4%), or retirement (4%). Despite the fact 66% said they haven’t seen any impact yet, 28% believe they will see some difference in the future.
Did this year’s tax cut for self-employed workers have any impact on you?
Current Employment Status
Many self-employed workers have another job
Nearly 1 in 10 workers hasn’t taken a vacation since they became self-employed. One in 3 self-employed workers now has less time to exercise. But given 40% of self-described self-employed individuals currently have another job, there may be more factors at play than self-employment alone.
Among those who haven’t given up self-employment entirely, 61% say they’re self-employed full-time. The remaining 39% are almost evenly divided between working for others part-time or full-time. No wonder so many self-employed workers have less free time for other activities.
How would you describe your work?
As for the length of time they’ve been self-employed, 61% said they’ve been self-employed for more than two years. And nearly 1 in 4 has been so for over 10. If self-employment were a business in itself, it would have a solid retention rate.
How many years have you been self-employed?
A legacy of the 2008 recession?
When asked how long they’d been self-employed, the least popular answer was 6–10 years. Twice as many respondents (25%) said they’d been self-employed for 3–5 years, and nearly the same number (24%) for 10 years or more. Why? What events might have affected a person’s likelihood to start their own small business 6–10 years ago?
The most likely culprit: The recent economic recession.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Great Recession, also known as the 2008 Recession. Self-employed workers who’ve been self-employed for the last 10+ years are likely folks who got into self-employment out of passion. They could have chosen a 9–5 job back in 2005 or 2006—there were plenty of open positions out there to choose from. But instead, they decided to strike out on their own. The same goes for those who joined the self-employed workforce 3–5 years ago.
Necessity, not choice
But those who began their self-employment between 2008 and 2012 were likely more driven by layoffs or other financial necessity. While they might have enjoyed their work, their first few years in business would have been especially tough, and a lack of confidence in the economy likely would have prompted them to re-join the traditional workforce once they were able.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) confirms this with their Business Optimism Index. The study, which surveys business owners every month, recently reported a historically high sense of optimism for June 2018. As sales continue to stay strong, entrepreneurs feel confident in their decisions to hire, increase inventory, and invest in business growth.
But look at the numbers from 2008–2012, and the index shows a much different story. During this time, optimism was at a 30-year all-time low. With less optimism comes a reduced sense of confidence and a greater desire to turn to a more reliable livelihood.
Most lasted two years or fewer
As mentioned, 8% of survey respondents said they used to be self-employed but weren’t any longer. These individuals received a separate set of questions, attempting to better understand their challenges and decisions to retire or rejoin the traditional workforce.
According to the survey results, the majority of those who are no longer self-employed said they went out of business within the first two years. A surprising number (14%) said they were actually self-employed for more than 10 years of their life, though many factors could account for this, including retirement.
How many years were you self-employed?
For instance, stay-at-home parents often find home-run self-employment opportunities to offset lost wages. A recent study by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) found the number of female entrepreneurs who were also stay-at-home moms is growing.
Still, kids leaving the nest can’t account for why so many individuals give up self-employment after just a few years. So QuickBooks asked: What was the primary reason your self-employment came to an end?
What was the primary reason your self-employment came to an end?
The answer was clear. For nearly 1 in 4 workers, needing a stable source of income was the main reason for exiting the self-employed workforce. This was followed by retirement from the workforce, health reasons, and the need for a job with benefits.
1 in 3 self-employed workers wouldn’t trade their job for anything
By and large, self-employed workers love what they do, but most (70%) would be willing to work for someone else for the right incentive. While 22% said they’d do it if it were better for their family, 20% said they’d trade it for a job that paid more money, and almost 29% said they would do it for the right job. All in all, when asked whether they’d ever trade working for themselves, 30% said nothing would make them want to give up self-employment.
Would you ever trade working for yourself?
As for what parts self-employed workers consider to be the most rewarding, the most popular response was they love being their own boss. That was followed by the freedom to make their own hours, being in charge of their own destiny, and living to work instead of working to live.
What is the most rewarding thing about working for yourself?
It’s risky to pursue self-employment. Besides the fact self-employed workers don’t often have the funds for maternity leave, paternity leave, or any other long leaves of absence, the data suggests 1 in 20 self-employed businesses closes within two years. And that makes a lot of sense. Working independently doesn’t often provide a stable source of income—at least not immediately.
The good news for self-employed workers is the mountain is worth the climb. By and large, self-employed workers report better health and happiness. And in the end, many even end up making far more money per hour than they did previously. Sure, it’s not always easy, but given 62% of workers said they were happy to make those necessary sacrifices, it seems most self-employed workers don’t particularly mind.
QuickBooks Self-Employed surveyed 1,000 self-employed people throughout the US in July 2018. The sample was selected by Pollfish. QuickBooks Self-Employed welcomes the re-use of this data under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original source is cited with attribution to http://quickbooks.intuit.com/self-employed