Aside from prompt payment, self-employed workers value a strong working relationship with their clients and the ability to find a good work-life balance, according to a new report.

Working well for yourself: what makes for good self-employment? is a report published by the Involvement & Participation Association (IPA) and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) in the UK. It addresses what good self-employed work looks like and how we can get more of it.

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There are now almost five million self-employed workers in the UK. That’s roughly one in seven people. The report finds that many self-employed workers are generally happy with their work – and hugely value the autonomy that self-employment delivers.

However, there are certain factors which seem to play a key role in determining how good self-employed work actually is. According to the report, these are:

Payment practices

The variable nature of earnings is a concern for contractors. This is often intensified by a poor payment culture. There are many reports of clients paying invoices late or not paying them at all. This is something which needs to be tackled. Workers also said they find it difficult to access financial products or government benefits like Universal Credit.

Client relationships

Most self-employed workers’ key type of social interaction at work is with their clients. In most cases these are mainly positive relationships, founded on mutual respect. They allow self-employed people to enjoy the autonomy and control that are the defining features of this way of working. Problems arise when the self-employed come under pressure to compromise on points that are in their clients’ interests but not their own. These often relate to unpaid extra hours and compromising on the quality of work. Clients need to properly respect the independence of self-employed contractors. This means making sure both that work contracts are properly drafted to begin with and that they adhere to them in practice.

Work-life balance and skills

On average, contractors work longer hours than employees. This is generally their own choice and doesn’t necessarily mean they are less happy. The majority, however, said they would prefer to be working fewer hours and that they found it hard to take many holidays or sick days.

Progression and a sense of purpose

The vast majority of contractors do not fit the description of entrepreneurs looking to grow a business and hire other employees; instead they simply enjoy practising their chosen profession as an independent worker. This means they have to think differently to employees about how they assess their progression at work. Instead of climbing a career ladder, they find other sources of meaning in their work. This is often through contributing to society or developing their own skills and expertise.

“It’s hugely encouraging that so many of the self-employed enjoy meaningful and satisfying work,” Nita Clarke, IPA director, said. “But it’s also vital that we take a close look at those areas where work quality is less positive, such as around poor payment culture, access to government support and misunderstanding among some client organisations about how the self-employed should be treated.”

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