The Picket Fence Dilemma

Being an entrepreneur has its advantages. There’s flexibility, the ability to do work that aligns with your vision and values, the challenge of generating new business and balancing sales with service. Every day, an entrepreneur gets to choose what action steps she needs to take that day to meet her goals and objectives.

Being an employee has equal advantages. When you work for someone else, you have the satisfaction of being part of something larger than yourself and working with a team. While there may be politics, and no company is safe from change, working for a company typically provides stability that includes a steady paycheck, benefits and other perquisites.

What, then, do we do when we can’t decide between the two–entrepreneurship or employment?

Picket FenceI call this “The Picket Fence Dilemma.” You might also call it The-Grass-Is-Always-Greener Syndrome. People who are employed have wild fantasies about what it would be like to work for themselves. “Isn’t it great being your own boss?” people asked me when I left my job as vice president of marketing for a hospital to launch my coaching practice full-time. “Don’t you just love the freedom?”

“Yeees,” I would reply cautiously. How could I communicate the cost, and benefit, of being an entrepreneur? How could I tell people who are dreaming of bolting from a corporate cubicle that running your own business isn’t really being your own boss? Running a business is like having dozens of bosses, and they’re called “clients.”

When I work with career coaching clients, one of the first things we have to discern is which side of the fence they are choosing: employment or entrepreneurship. Getting a job and keeping it involves a host of skills and talents that are quite different from running a business. Choosing self-employment is not, I would venture to say, the easier choice. Gratifying, yes. Challenging for sure. But not easy.

The worst thing of all is to be on the fence about that choice. Whether you want to be employed or grow a business, choose. Pick a lane. Then give it all you’ve got. Otherwise, you’ll end up straddling that picket fence. And that’s gotta hurt.

The Unhappy 49%

The mission of my coaching practice is “to create a world in which people love what they do and do what they love.” That mission drives me every day. But apparently I have a long way to go before revolutionizing the World of Work, judging from a recent study issued by the American Psychological Association.

In a press release dated March 5, 2013, the APA announced, “More than one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress, with low salaries, lack of opportunity for advancement and heavy workloads topping the list of contributing factors.” This was from a new national survey, the “Work and Well-Being Survey” conducted on behalf of the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence.

The report goes on to say, “On the heels of the recession, many employees appear to feel stuck, with only 39 percent citing sufficient opportunities for internal career advancement and just over half (51 percent) saying they feel valued at work.”

Hmmm… well, it is over half. But that leaves an unhappy 49% of the workforce, or at least the ones who responded to the study (conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the APA between Jan. 9-Jan. 21, 2013, among 1,501 U.S. adults aged 18 and older). These folks had complaints about employers not flexing to their needs, including the concern that work encroaches on family time.

Perhaps even more alarming, the study reported that “Only 37 percent of women reported regularly using employee benefits designed to help them meet demands outside the office, compared to almost half of men (46 percent), and just 38 percent of women said they regularly utilize flexible work arrangements, compared to 42 percent of men.” That means the guys are using the resources made available to them by the company–things, perhaps, like wellness programs or flex-time. So even when it’s offered, the ladies are using those resources much less frequently.

I don’t have the answer. Just the question: If we’re unhappy at work, what’s our part in it? What do you think?