How to support your mental health when you are self-employed

Inna Yordanova
Inna Yordanova

Senior Researcher at IPSE

Mental Health at Work has partnered with Simply Business to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing. Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and break the stigma surrounding mental health at work.

If you are self-employed and often worry about all the different aspects of your work, such as completing your projects on time, doing your self-assessment, chasing late payments and looking for work, don’t worry – you are not alone.

The number of the UK’s self-employed has been increasing rapidly in the last decade, passing the 5-million mark for the first time ever at the end of 2019. This means that while more and more people are enjoying the flexibility that self-employment allows, they are also facing more of the same challenges.

The majority of self-employed people are satisfied with this way of work.

That is why the team at IPSE IPSE IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed, is a membership body for freelancers, interim View organisation (The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) work hard to understand the impact of self-employment on mental health and wellbeing, and to provide suggestions on what more can be done to support you: the UK’s most flexible workforce.

What is the relationship between self-employment and wellbeing?

IPSE’s survey work shows that the majority of self-employed people are largely satisfied with this way of work, with four in five (77%) saying that they are happy in self-employment [1] and 70 per cent intending to be self-employed in the foreseeable future.[2]

When asked how freelancing makes them feel, the majority say that they are often cheerful (66%), optimistic (50%) and energised (46%).[3] In comparison, a similar study by CIPD found that only 29 per cent of employees often feel cheerful.[4]

Contributing most strongly to freelancers’ overall sense of wellbeing is confidence that they can usually handle the challenges in their work (95%) and a sense of pride in the work they do (91%).

Key challenges in self-employment

That being said, self-employment comes with its challenges. In fact, we find that many self-employed people face work-related stress, for reasons varying from financial difficulties to loneliness and isolation.

For instance, our research shows that financial worries in self-employment stem from factors such as irregularity of income or unpredictable finances (50%), not being financially prepared for retirement (46%) and not being paid on time by a client (39%).[5]

If you are currently self-employed, these financial difficulties might have been further exacerbated due to the coronavirus crisis​IPSE coronavirus guidance and advice for the self-employed Website IPSE have put together an online coronavirus hub designed to help the self-employed to understand the law, the latest advice, and provide links to other organisations for specialist advice.Free By: IPSE View resource, with over two-thirds of freelancers telling us they are experiencing decreasing demand for work, and over four in five (81%) predicting their incomes will drop as a result.[6]

Like most of us, since lockdown many freelancers now work remotely. Whilst this comes with its perks, our research also shows that some find unclear communication (28%) and loneliness (19%) key barriers to this way of working.

What can you do to support your mental health in self-employment?

There are several things you can do to reduce your stress levels in self-employment, to make sure you enjoy a genuinely rewarding freelancing career.

Prepare financially

One way to prepare for periods without work is putting insurances and a savings plan in place. You can also put together a financial plan to improve your satisfaction with your financial wellbeing.

Engage in work-related training

Expanding your skill set can also help you build up your confidence and become a pathway towards an increased earning potential. Outside of work-related training, you can look at time/stress-management courses to help reduce worries associated with running your self-employed business.

Connect with other freelancers​Leapers: Slack group Web page Leapers runs a Slack group for people who are, or are considering, working outside the normal nine-to-five pattern: freelancers, homeworkers, the self-employed, SME owners and everyone in between.FreeProvide your email address to receive invitation By: Leapers View resource

Both online and in person, networking is a great way to limit feelings of loneliness and isolation, even though the latter is currently not possible because of the coronavirus lockdown.

In the current times of lockdown, however, turning to online freelancing communities can be an equally rewarding way of connecting with others to share your experiences and look for advice.

Policymakers should work to adapt to the realities of the modern labour market.

Finally, at IPSE, we understand that there is also space for government and industry to contribute to the wellbeing and prosperity of self-employed people. That’s why we lobby industry to develop more flexible financial products to meet your needs in self-employment.

As an organisation representing the UK’s self-employed and freelancers, we also offer products and services to protect you and offer you a greater piece of mind whilst operating your business.

We also believe that policymakers should work to adapt to the realities of the modern labour market, especially in areas such as taxation, pension provision and late payment, whilst ensuring that all self-employed groups are adequately supported during the coronavirus crisis that has been so difficult for all.

Visit Simply Business to find out more about the challenges facing the self-employed and small business owners, along with practical resources to support you.

1 Savanta ComRes on behalf of IPSE, 2019, Survey of the Self-Employed, Unpublished.

2 Savanta ComRes on behalf of IPSE, 2017, Survey of the Self-Employed, Unpublished.

3 IPSE, 2017, To be or not to be a Freelancer: Job Satisfaction and Wellbeing.

4 CIPD, 2017, Employee Outlook Spring 2017.

5 See reference 2.

6 IPSE, 2020, Coronavirus report. 7 IPSE, 2019, Remote working.


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