Self-employment: the panacea for a woman's work-life balance?
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In today’s society the number of self-employed people is rising (Kösters, 2009). Especially women increasingly start their own business in order to improve their work-life balance, which is defined as “satisfaction with fulfilling the personal goals in both the work and life domains, by being able to use appropriate means” (Campbell Clark, 2000:751). This Dutch interview study (N=24) examines the experiences of self-employed women with children managing paid work and other life domains. How do Dutch self-employed women experience their work-life balance and how can differences in experiences be explained from an organizational sociological perspective? Instead of considering self-employed as one group, various organizational factors are taken into account, such as type of self-employment, sector, location of the office, and years of being self-employed. Women´s experiences are studied in relation to their organizational context. Overall, Dutch self-employed women are satisfied with their work-life balance, but are also struggling with it over time. According to self-employed women, work-life balance is a process rather than a static, measurable moment in time. Furthermore, since personal goals vary among self-employed, the meaning of a balance is subjective. Women who were aware of their personal goals in the work, family, social, and personal domain were better able to balance and act in accordance to their values during the day. Women who were less aware of their personal goals were mainly reacting and rebalancing when they did not feel well. Self-employed women’s personal goals in all life domains were often reflected in their jobs. Especially their priorities in personal and social life were similar to their priorities in work. Therefore, women did not experience their life as compartmentalized in various domains. This might be different from organizational employees, who have to adapt to the organization’s culture, including rules, thought patterns, and behaviour (Campbell Clark, 2000). Although the self-employed women in this study felt in charge of their life and responsible for the choices they made, the organizational context did influence the resources and demands which respectively enhanced and hindered their work-life balance. Autonomy is considered to be the main resource of self-employed. The degree of women’s job, spatial, and time autonomy varied among women and was influenced by the contents of their work, the relation to their clients, working hours, the location of their office, and whether they needed to consider, share tasks and responsibilities with a business partner or personnel. The skills women used to define, reflect on, and redefine personal goals in all life domains were generated in their work. Women in training and development applied coaching techniques, women in business services scheduled, planned and set targets, and women in the health care sector were sensitive to their feelings of being balanced. In commercial service’s women’s main goal was success, which implied they worked hard and spend little time at other domain goals. Since self-employed women’s life was not compartmentalized, other resources, such as social support and faith, were generated in the work and life domains simultaneously. Social support came from the spouse (family), friends (social), and business partner (work). Faith was generated by life experience and the years being self-employed. Furthermore, demands were related to women’s organizational context, mainly to the nature of the job. Women experienced psychological and emotional strain, unfavorable working hours, and dependency on clients as a demand. Furthermore, the position of women being the breadwinner and other societal developments were hindering women’s work-life balance experience. All women said their own restrictive beliefs and thoughts, such as perfectionism and guilt, to be the main factor that hindered them in pursuing goals in the work and other life domains. To conclude, organizational characteristics such as the sector, nature of the job, the type of self-employment, and the location of the office, influence self-employed women’s work-life balance. Self-employed women’s organizational context influences their ability to define and reflect on goals, and provides them with specific resources and demands. Therefore, findings about self-employed women’s work-life balance cannot be generalized. Self-employment in general is not a panacea for a work-life balance. It is highly recommended to read the self-employment package leaflet and consider various organizational contexts.