7 Reasons to Work for Yourself


Every once in a while I get a call from a headhunter asking if I’m interested in changing jobs. Because I work in high-tech, some of these jobs come with fancy titles, intriguing stock options and free organic snacks in the company kitchen. But so far I’ve never even been tempted. I absolutely love my boss, and can’t imagine finding a better one.

Here’s why:

1. She lets me work flexible hours. My boss doesn’t care when I clock in as long as I get my work done and my clients are happy. Some days I start at 7:00 a.m. and some days I might not start until 10:00 a.m. or later, depending on whether my husband is on kid duty or I am.

2. She lets me work from home. Not only does she let me choose when I work, she lets me choose where I work. I do most of my work from home, and commute only for face-to-face meetings.

3. She pays well. A lot of jobs will give employees a little flexibility, but then ding them on pay. My boss thinks that’s ridiculous. She pays me what I’m worth — there’s no Mommy Track pay scale here.

4. She gives me unlimited time off. My boss doesn’t care how many sick days or vacation days I take. She doesn’t even keep track! She’s created a results-only work environment. All she cares about is a job well done. This is measured in client satisfaction and, at year-end, financial performance.

5. She gives me total autonomy. My boss trusts me to figure out how to get my work done; she never micromanages me, and doesn’t expect me to conform to some rigid corporate idea of who I should be. She even gives me veto power over which projects we take on. She has a “No Jerks” rule; we turn down projects if we sense there’s a bad personality fit. Luckily, we have plenty of great clients who are a joy to work with.

6. She invests in me. My boss says it’s important I have the tools and training I need to do my job. She gives me a generous budget for conferences and classes, and never bats an eye when I say I need to buy new software or my computer needs an upgrade.

7. She understands me. The real reason this all works is that my boss gets me. It helps that she’s a working mom, so she understands when I have to pick the kids up early on certain days, or take a day off to chaperone a field trip. She knows I work hard, and she never questions my work ethic, or makes me feel like a second-class citizen because I have family obligations. In return, I am a loyal, engaged, hard-working, and happy employee.

Of course, my boss isn’t perfect. She expects a lot from me — there’s no slacking in this job. Sometimes I wish she would hire more support staff. And sometimes she asks me to juggle too many projects at once. But for me, the tradeoffs are more than worth it.

You probably know the punch line. My boss is… me. Ba-dum-bum.

I’ve been self-employed for the past five years. Here’s why I’m telling you this.

Many companies are struggling to find talented workers. Experts warn that there’s a shortage of talented managers looming, and it’s going to cost companies big money if they can’t recruit and hire the right people.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans are unhappy in their current jobs. A Gallup study from 2013 found that 50 percent of employees are disengaged from their work, and another 20 percent are “actively disengaged.” The “actively disengaged” group alone costs businesses $450 to $550 billion a year in lost productivity. It’s as if a fifth of the workforce is carrying stink bombs around in their hands, leaving a toxic trail of smoke in the company hallways.

One significant cause of this discontent? Bad managers. According to that same Gallup report, much of this unhappiness stems from “bosses from hell” who fail to support, empower, and engage their staff.

So to recap: Businesses are having trouble attracting the right people, and 70 percent of the people they have now are underperforming. And then you have this: an expected rise in the number of independent workers. Until recently, being your own boss wasn’t an option for many people, because they couldn’t obtain or afford health insurance. But now with Obamacare, that barrier has been removed. By 2020, an estimated 40 percent of American workers will be self-employed as freelancers, contractors, or temporary workers.

This number seemed staggering to me. Until I considered my boss.

Why would anyone choose to work in a company where they have little or no flexibility, if they had another option? Why would anyone stay at a job where, if they do have some flexibility, they’re treated like slackers and paid less? Where hierarchy is top-down, and company culture squashes creativity and autonomy? The Internet (and Obamacare) made it possible for a growing number of us to reject that whole paradigm, and do things our own way.

As Daniel Pink, the author of “Free Agent Nation,” pointed out in a 2012 interview, technology has been the real game changer. “There is a bit of a Marxist revenge here. Workers now own their own means of production . . . Today, talented individuals need organizations a lot less than organizations need talented individuals.”

It’s not just professional consultants like me who are becoming their own boss. Some of the occupations with the fastest growth in self-employment include landscaping, housekeeping, and construction.

Of course, self-employment isn’t for everyone, but if you have a bad boss, the time has never been better to explore your other options.

And if you’re an HR manager, the head of talent acquisition, or a company leader, take heed. Competition is stiff for hard-working, creative, motivated employees. If you want to stay in business, it’s time to start thinking less like your boss, and more like mine.

This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved. 

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