Women in Involuntary Bogus Self-Employment Project

Project overview

The aim of this empirical study is to understand the impact of involuntary false self-employment on female educators’ job satisfaction and well-being in the public educational sector in Cyprus and unravel the barriers that mothers with school age children still face.

Through an online questionnaire and semi-structured interviews, data were collected from 43 respondents. Drawing on the work and family conflict theory, this study reports that female educators still resort to bogus self-employment as the only means to support their families.

Descriptive statistics and thematic analysis reveal that involuntary bogus self-employment has negatively impacted these women’s health, family life and career prospects. 65% of the participants stated that they suffered from mental health issues and 59% reported their dissatisfaction with their life overall.

Implications of the findings are discussed to unveil the gendered challenges that women with caregiving responsibilities still face in the workplace due to insufficient childcare and caregiving support.

More information

The current study explored the effects of involuntary self-employment on female Greek-Cypriot educators’ well-being and job satisfaction. It aims to examine this relatively new phenomenon and how it relates to gender in a small European country, Cyprus.

This type of involuntary bogus self-employment is common in higher education but not in secondary education, especially in the public sector (Carrasco and Hernanz, 2021). Very few studies have explored this phenomenon and its impact on women (Maestripieri and León, 2019).

Based on the findings of this study, significant recommendations will be provided as to how all relevant stakeholders can support women who are in a way forced to live under this state by their employer, that is the Ministry of Education and Culture in Cyprus in this case. This is becoming increasingly more important as this type of employment enters various sectors and influences the life of the workers and their families.

The current study has utilised Goldberg and Williams’ (1988) General Health Questionnaire (GHQ: 12) and a list of related questions which were used in the semi-structured interviews.

It contributes to this literature by analysing the relationship between involuntary bogus self-employment status and four subjective well-being measures in Cyprus.

These measures are frequently examined in related research and are meant to capture different concepts of well-being, namely the subjective (or self-assessed) health and the psychological (or mental) well-being of the workforce (Bardasi and Francesconi, 2004; Robone et al., 2011).

They include psychological distress and life dissatisfaction (both closely related to the concept of psychological/mental well-being), anxiety/depression (capturing an explicit and probably diagnosed, long-term mental health condition), and poor general health (which refers to subjective general health status that includes physical health issues as well).

Our key contribution is not only to study the effects of involuntary bogus self-employment on subjective well-being, but to try to understand the mechanisms behind this relationship, with a particular focus on the mediating role of self-reported job satisfaction.

In particular, a range of dimensions of job satisfaction are examined, including overall satisfaction with the job, satisfaction with job security, total pay, hours of work and the actual work itself.

Job satisfaction measures can be quite informative in this respect as they capture the workers’ reactions and attitudes towards the array of job characteristics associated with bogus self-employment and, therefore, allow for a summary subjective evaluation of the consequences of involuntary bogus self-employment.

It seems quite surprising that previous research has not investigated this mediating influence of job satisfaction, since a substantial body of research has focused on the tendency of those employees on involuntary bogus self-employment to report low satisfaction, especially in domains associated with job security (see, for example, Anxo and Ericson, 2019; Kösters and Smits, 2021; Williams et al., 2020).

The overall aim of the current study was to explore how these women felt about bogus self-employment and what was its effect on their well-being and job satisfaction. They then participated in lengthy semi-structured interviews responding to pre-determined questions.

These women worked as educators for publicly funded educational institutions in Cyprus teaching a variety of subjects i.e., languages, Maths, IT skills to primary and secondary school children. Using opportunity and snowball sampling methods (Sharma, 2017), a small sample was deemed as sufficient for the current qualitative study (Vasileiou et al, 2018). Interviewees were found by tapping into the researcher’s professional network.

Using a qualitative research design, the researcher asked educators to respond anonymously to an online survey through Google Forms. They then participated in online interviews through Microsoft Teams.

Participants provided their informed consent forms, and the interviews were thematically analysed. The aim of the current study was to address the following research questions:

  • What is the impact of involuntary bogus-self-employment on female educators’ well-being?
  • What is the influence of involuntary bogus-self-employment on female educators’ job satisfaction?

During the first phase of the current study, part of the findings has been analysed using descriptive statistical methods and thematic analysis techniques. The emerging results revealed that at the time of the data collection:

  • 75% of the participants have been able to concentrate less on whatever they were doing lately. They reported that they experienced a lot of stress during the school year and claimed that uncertainty in employment and lack of stability regarding income prevented concentration.
  • 65% revealed that they lost their sleep over worry. They said that they used to wake up 2-3 times feeling stressed about the future.
  • 67% felt that they were playing a less useful part in things. They said that they didn’t feel they were as important as they could or wanted to be in their job.
  • 59% felt that they were not capable of making decisions about things. They felt that almost everything concerning their work was imposed on them by their employer.
  • Conference presentations (London Metropolitan University Student and Staff Research Conference 2023, Buisness and Management Conference 2022).
  • Paper (in preparation)

The promotion of the idea of ‘flexicurity’ among policy circles has meant that labour market reforms undertaken throughout Europe in the last decades have as their main aim to increase both labour market flexibility (mainly through the promotion of flexible employment contracts and less strict job protection legislation) and the employment and income security of individuals (Chadi and Hetschko, 2013Origo and Pagani, 2009).

However, the results presented here show that although increased flexibility associated with self-employment contracts may offer reimbursements that are beneficial for individual well-being at the micro level, female workers on involuntary bogus self-employment in Cyprus suffer from a well-being penalty which also affects their personal lives and families.

This means that the gains from flexibility, such as more flexible scheduling arrangements cannot outweigh the costs in terms of psychological well-being that are mainly the result of greater dissatisfaction with security among female workers with involuntary bogus self-employment contracts.

Moreover, some recent evidence also suggests that it is not at all certain that the costs in terms of well-being due to increased job insecurity can be effectively reimbursed by alternative policies that enhance employability and income security instead (Berglund et al., 2014).

This in turn may have serious implications for the welfare state and the macro-economy (Burgoon and Dekker, 2010), through a greater political pressure for a more generous welfare state as the number of workers on bogus self-employment increases, and an accompanying increase in health care or other welfare state costs. These unfavourable developments can be prevented by a different policy approach that takes into account the importance of satisfaction with job security for the well-being of individual workers.

Finally, the present study also suggests that unequal distribution of caregiving forces many mothers with school age children to choose bogus self-employment due to the lack of support from employers who offer dependent employment. This remains a barrier for women at work as a culture of empathy and psychological safety for mothers with caregiving responsibilities is lacking.  

Women, even highly educated ones, often must pay a price for motherhood. Even nowadays, they opt for involuntary bogus self-employment to support their families and remain in the labour market. Women in our study have clearly indicated that society still makes it so difficult for women to have a healthy balance between their professional and personal lives.

These conventional societal norms still relegate the role of mothers to primarily care for their families (Ahl, 2007), which presents a big impediment for women trying to attain their own career goals.

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