Would you be happier if you worked for yourself? Here are 4 things to know

If you’ve ever left a one-on-one with your boss wondering if you’d just be happier working for yourself, the answer is: it depends. 

Boris Nikolaev
Boris Nikolaev is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Colorado State University.

“If you’re an entrepreneur, you certainly have more control and autonomy, but you conversely are much more at risk of failure than in the corporate world,” said Boris Nikolaev, an assistant professor for entrepreneurship in the Colorado State University College of Business.

Nikolaev’s research focuses on the economics of happiness and well-being. Recently, he’s studied whether entrepreneurs have more satisfaction than the 90% of Americans with a more traditional job. 

It’s a timely topic, given the slew of viral LinkedIn posts touting the benefits of starting your own business. In fact, Nikolaev says recent surveys have shown that two-thirds of Americans say they want to work for themselves, but they may have a skewed image of what that actually entails. 

Here are four things his research shows about the intersection between entrepreneurship and well-being. 

Your boss might make you work a lot (even when your boss is yourself)  

Ironically, Nikolaev said his research has shown that people who become their own boss tend to put in more hours at work than they did when someone else was calling the shots. 

“Entrepreneurship is truly an outlet for creative expression,” he said. “Most people who start their own businesses start small, work more hours, and generally make less money than they did before.” 

Two-thirds of the people who work for themselves in the U.S. are solo entrepreneurs, which means they don’t have a team to lean on when the going gets tough. 

It might mean more hours, but being your own boss can also have its own perks.

More flexibility means a better sense of well-being 

Despite the longer hours, Nikolaev says research has consistently shown that entrepreneurship comes with higher levels of satisfaction in the job and in life, and that partially comes from the sense of control that accompanies owning your own business. 

“Say you work in an office and don’t like one of your employees or coworkers – you’re stuck with them, so you might cope in less productive ways, like venting to your partner,” he said. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you can change your schedule or avoid working with people you don’t want to, and that sense of control can increase your psychological well-being.”

There’s a bigger chance for failure than in the average job 

Nikolaev said well-being research has shown that losing a job is one of the most stressful experiences someone can go through – and when it’s your own business, it becomes extra personal. 

“That deeper connection to what you’re doing means that when it fails, it hits you harder,” Nikolaev said. 

And unfortunately, failure is all-too-common in the entrepreneurship space. Statistics show that over two-thirds of businesses fail within the first 10 years. And, even if an entrepreneur is successful, they may find themselves handling more managerial than creative tasks as their businesses grow. 

“Companies evolve and grow over time, and it might not be the way you want,” Nikolaev said. 

Entrepreneurs are at the forefront of culture 

Nikolaev said self employment in the U.S. has decreased over time as the economy has grown more and more complex, but nevertheless, entrepreneurs continue to dominate the news. 

“However, the average business owner is not Elon Musk, they’re not Oprah,” Nikolaev said. “For the vast majority of people, they’re doing this to have more flexibility, not change the world or get rich.” 

With that being said, Nikolaev said younger generations have become increasingly drawn to working for themselves with the advent of gig work and hustle culture – something that has been made more visible by platforms like TikTok and YouTube.

“Entrepreneurship may be hard work and it might not all be rainbows, but there’s something to be said about the sense of purpose and meaning that comes from starting your own venture,” Nikolaev said.

About CSU’s College of Business

The College of Business at Colorado State University is focused on using business to create a better world.

As an AACSB-accredited business school, the College is among the top five percent of business colleges worldwide, providing programs and career support services to more than 2,500 undergraduate and 1,300 graduate students. Faculty help students across our top-ranked on-campus and online programs develop the knowledge, skills and values to navigate a rapidly evolving business world and address global challenges with sustainable business solutions. Our students are known for their creativity, work ethic and resilience—resulting in an undergraduate job offer and placement rate of over 90% within 90 days of graduation.

The College’s highly ranked programs include its Online MBA, which has been ranked the No. 1 program in Colorado by U.S. News and World Report for six years running and achieved No. 16 for employability worldwide from QS Quacquarelli Symonds. The College’s Impact MBA is also ranked by Corporate Knights as a Top 20 “Better World MBA” worldwide.