Family support, an essential vector of well-being for entrepreneurs

Picture the scene: It’s late afternoon. A mother attends a Zoom meeting in the kitchen while trying to cook for a (starving) child who is soon to leave school. Meanwhile, her husband runs to elementary school to pick up their son, who has just finished an important work meeting. He will return home in an hour while the mother, who has just finished her Zoom call, takes care of the child.

This scene has become common in homes these days, especially since the Covid-19 crisis in 2020 with the rise of remote working. Reconciling work and family responsibilities, also known as “work-family balance” (EFT), has thus become a major concern of today’s workforce.

In addition, family support, especially between spouses, is an important factor in helping people reconcile work and family responsibilities. Research shows that a successful work-family balance leads to greater satisfaction in both areas.

“I am good at reconciling work and family”

But are there any specifics for entrepreneurs? In our research, we focused on the well-being of French owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who set up and run their own businesses and play a vital role in the modern economy. We measured feelings of well-being by looking at the family satisfaction, job satisfaction, work-related stress and the occurrence of burnout of entrepreneurs, and relating these to their family support.

We found that, in general, entrepreneurs said they were satisfied with their well-being at work. When asked whether they agreed or disagreed, on a scale of 1 to 5, with statements such as “I can negotiate and achieve what is expected of me at work and in my family” and “People close to me standing would say that I manage to reconcile work and family,” the SME owners got an average of 3.8.

With regard to family, when respondents were asked to rate items such as “In general, I am satisfied with my family life” and “My family life is very pleasant”, their score was 3.95. † In fact, the result was 4.25 when it came to job satisfaction, and most of our sample agreed with the statement “In general, I am satisfied with my job”.

While the ETF average seems high, there are inter-individual variations that we wanted to know to what extent were related to family support.

To gain a more nuanced and in-depth understanding of the role family support plays on EFT and entrepreneurial well-being, we looked at two types of support: instrumental support and emotional support. What do these two forms of support mean? Instrumental support consists of behaviors and attitudes of family members to perform certain concrete tasks for entrepreneurs. Think of doing household chores, preparing dinner or taking care of the children. Emotional support, on the other hand, is a behavior or attitude of family members aimed at encouraging, understanding, paying attention and looking positively at entrepreneurs. This can be done, for example, by expressing care, love and appreciation.

Preparing dinner, an example of instrumental support.

Our research shows that, in general, family support is positively related to entrepreneurial EFT, and that having a sense of EFT leads to a higher sense of well-being. However, we were surprised to find that while emotional support from family increases the sense of EFT and well-being of entrepreneurs, instrumental support decreases their sense of EFT and well-being in general.

Benefits not always clear

The result of our search seemed contradictory to what we expected. While we intuitively thought that any form of family support would benefit entrepreneurs, it seems that family support is not “one size fits all”.

The first message of our research is that EFT is the key to increased family and job satisfaction, and less work stress and burnout in small and medium-sized entrepreneurs. While family support plays an important role in this, the benefits it offers are not always clear.

The second message of our research is that family members should be aware of the type of support they provide to entrepreneurs, and be aware that not all types of support are necessarily beneficial.

While emotional support from family can be a source of inspiration and comfort to entrepreneurs, supporting them in completing tasks and chores can diminish their sense of accomplishment in dealing with work and family responsibilities and conflict with their sense of well-being. Thus, relatives should ask rather than assume a priori what kind of support and assistance would be perceived as beneficial for entrepreneurs.

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