Craig Dearden-Phillips: We should see ourselves as mini-companies

Work is increasingly short-term and bespoke, and the self-employed are happier and healthier, writes our columnist

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

One of my more embarrassing habits is to listen to self-development CDs in the car. One of these is about selling and, among the "affirmations" and "hot tips", there is the profound point that each of us, whether employed or not, should see ourselves as a "personal service corporation".

Putting aside the Americanisms, this means that the healthier way to regard ourselves is not as cogs or employees but as mini-companies that sell the benefits of what we create to a willing customer: for most people, this is an employer.

This is healthy because it puts the employment relationship on a more grown-up footing. It becomes less about a prescribed set of roles than a free exchange of mutual value for the duration of time it benefits both parties. This is crucial because the minute a job isn't working out for one side, the relationship ceases to be of any real value for either party - rather like a failing marriage.

Take, for example, a situation where an employee should move on, but the employer can't force the issue. Neither benefits, in this case, from 'job security' - not even the person it is supposedly protecting, because they come to realise they are not valued. This is a big hit to their confidence and their ability to move into something new. So everyone gets stuck and in come the HR people.

The problem in our sector is that the modern view of employment - that both parties must be big winners - is somehow lost in the language of employee rights and employer responsibilities. These are upheld by an HR industry that tends to infantilise employees and forces companies into a quasi-parental role. This diminishes everyone involved. You simply don't meet many happy employees - people who feel valued and in control of their work. Indeed, you meet many more who complain about their work, feel unrecognised and have lost all sense of personal agency. Equally, on the employer's side, you tend to find that workforce issues take up more time in senior team meetings than how to improve the offer to customers or clients.

This problem is exacerbated by trends in the economy. More and more work now consists of short-term, bespoke projects, rather than ongoing, repeatable tasks. It's about highly skilled teams coming together, delivering and then dissolving. A dependent workforce operating 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, doesn't lend itself to this new reality.

The good news is that the world beyond the public and charitable sectors is changing fast. Half a million people in the UK set up in business in 2012. Those who remain as employees should follow the advice on my CDs and become chief executives of their own personal corporations - not only because it's what the economy needs, but also because it tends to make people happier, healthier and more confident - as most self-employed people actually are.

Craig Dearden-Phillips is managing director of Stepping Out

Contact Craig, who writes in a personal capacity, at

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in
RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now