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Should you be an employee or employer?

Student wearing a white lab coat, sitting in a science lab, holding equipment
The rewards can be greater for the self-employed, but the risks lower for employees.

Do you like challenges and working independently? Or do you prefer more structure, with someone else taking the risks? Personal preferences can determine whether you’re suited to being an employee or employer.

This article looks at some of the factors you should consider if you’re wondering whether you’re better suited to being an employer or an employee.


If you enjoy a challenge, breaking routine and are comfortable searching out new opportunities, then working for yourself may suit you better than being someone’s employee.

Self-employed people and entrepreneurs generally work longer hours, are more self-motivated and receive greater satisfaction for their efforts.

If you like to feel more secure and learning from colleagues, then you might be better off having employee status.

First job

When you leave university, unless you’ve worked for several years before you studied, your business knowledge and networks will be limited.

As an employee, you’ll benefit from advice and mentoring from supervisors and colleagues. You’ll be on a steep learning curve, but there’ll be plenty of opportunity to discover different aspects of the job and which area of the business or organisation you enjoy the most.

Taking the plunge to set up on your own straight after you graduate is a brave move. It may not be practical, particularly if you have limited business expertise. But if you have a great idea and the motivation to succeed, it could fast track your career.

Pay structure

Some people like to know what lies ahead for them in the future, especially if they have ongoing financial commitments. By being employed you’ll have a regular income, and know exactly how much you’re getting and when. You may also have regular benefits, such as pension and holiday entitlements.

As an employer or entrepreneur, you’re solely responsible for bringing in a wage for you and your staff. This can vary, depending on the success – or otherwise – of your business. Chances are your income, or cashflow, will vary significantly from month-to-month.

Street walkway with many tall clocks and people walking.
Those who are self-employed rarely just work 9 to 5.

Work hours

Most jobs within a business or organisation have set hours. So you know when you’re working and for how long. Some people prefer this structure, knowing that their day starts, for example, at 9am and finishes at 5pm. They can leave at the end of the day and don’t have to take work home with them.

If you’re running your own business, hours can vary depending on your workload. In a small business, it may never end! It takes a long time to establish a business, so it’s not unusual to work into the night to finish outstanding tasks or projects.

Six students sitting around a table, with work books, pens and a laptop
Teamwork may play a greater role if you’re an employee.

Being autonomous

Self-employed people and entrepreneurs are often more satisfied with their work because they have autonomy. It’s all down to them. They don’t report to anyone (except maybe the Tax Office). Studies have shown that having autonomy gives workers greater satisfaction in their jobs and increases productivity.

As an employee, there’s usually less opportunity to act independently; the focus is more on team work.

Risk taking

If you want a working life that’s generally less stressful and risk adverse, then you’re probably better off being an employee. You’ll play a role in the success of the organisation but won’t be ultimately responsible for it like the CEO will be.

Entrepreneurship and risk-taking go hand-in-hand, from investing your own money into a business, to being uncertain about its future in an increasingly competitive marketplace.


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