Rise in the self-employed

Around 15% of the working population is now self-employed based on figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Against this background the CIPD reports that two-thirds of employers are reporting that their vacancies are proving hard to fill and the average number of applicants per vacancy has dropped across all skill levels What might this mean for employers?

Attracting talent

Some of the biggest increases in self-employment are in the 16 to 24 year age group which suggests a pool of talent and potential for the future is being slowly siphoned off – away from employment.

To remedy this., we need to examine why people seek self employment in the first place.

Why do individuals seek self employment?

Reasons vary enormously and this list is largely a matter speculation and some personal experience. If employers want to attract and retain talent they can address some of these issues.

Employment is not an equal relationship – while this is inevitable, demonstrating respect for employees and their wellbeing, motivation and talent can go a long way.

Applying for jobs can be time consuming, daunting and a dispiriting experience – a well designed CV can take hours of preparation and yet be studied for only a minute or two by a potential employer before receiving a standard “decline” response. Employers often treat customers better than they do job applicants– that merits thinking about.

Flexible working – offering flexible working when recruiting hugely increases to pool from which you are recruiting. Frequently interviewees will seek it while others who might have applied don’t.

Working from home – there are pros and cons to this and it is understandable if employers feel the home is not the best environment in which to work. It is not helpful for team building either. Nonetheless many potential employees seek this, often for family reasons, and in appropriate circumstances it can be an option.

Avoiding politics – oppressive managers, role ambiguity and power battles all create stress. Self employed workers can stand aside from these challenges to some degree. Being your own boss has its attractions. “Wise-ing up” to sound management, valid accountability lines and wellbeing are steps that employers can take to retain talent.

Higher earnings – this is rarely true. Median earning for men are about 30% lower and for women over 40% lower! Pensions, holidays and a host of other employment benefits are frequently overlooked when employees look at earnings. The answer for employers is “total pay statements” if they want to retain talent.

“Escape” from Health and Safety – self-employed workers can cut corners – roofers working without scaffold, scaffolders without hard-hats are two examples I’ve observed only recently. Employers can sell the benefits of safe-working rather than allowing it to be seen as a burden.


Self employed workers have to apply themselves, work with some diligence and keep customers happy. They may not always be the best team members, but the rise in self employment carries a few lessons for employers if they are to continue to attract and retain motivated employees.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

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