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The Good Business of Thriving Entrepreneurs

March 30, 2020

By Justin Walker

People love work-related satires. They're funny because they're true. The comic strip Dilbert, the movie Office Space and television's The Office, to name a few. Work culture has improved in recent years, but according to Boris Nikolaev, assistant professor of Entrepreneurship, Americans in general are still very unengaged at work.

Enter entrepreneurship.

Nikolaev is interested in the relationship between entrepreneurship and subjective well-being, as well as public policy, applied microeconomics, economic development and new institutional economics.

He recently published an article titled “Entrepreneurship and Subjective Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Psychological Functioning” in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice with co-authors Christopher John Boudreaux and Matthew Wood.

Nikolaev studies entrepreneurship and happiness for a number of different reasons.

He wants to understand what makes entrepreneurs happy and why. This, in turn, can help to promote and sustain a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.

Another reason is that the newer generation of workers want meaning and purpose in their work at levels not seen in previous generations, whose culture of work and circumstances were quite different. Entrepreneurship may suit younger workers in a particular way. They may find a lot of benefits in starting their own business.

There are two main types of subjective well-being. There’s hedonic well-being, which is a more visceral, immediate and affective assessment, such as how they emotionally feel at a given time–the presence of positive affect and absence of negative affect. Then there’s evaluative well-being, which is a reflective and cognitive life assessment–how one’s life is going. But Nikolaev and his colleagues wanted to look at eudaimonic aspects of well-being.

"We wanted to ask why are entrepreneurs happy and experience higher levels of subjective well-being, and we wanted to examine the role of psychological functioning,” he said.

In other words, are entrepreneurs not only feeling happy or good about their work, but are they truly thriving and fulfilled?

They hypothesized that the reason why entrepreneurs might have greater life satisfaction, for example, is because they feel a high level of psychological functioning.

Nikolaev used data from wave 6 of the European Social Survey, a transnational survey based on face-to-face interviews. The data was rich because of its in-depth questions around work and well-being.

They found that a large part of the reason why entrepreneurs experience higher subjective well-being is because they have more autonomy and control and meaning and purpose. The respondents being engaged with their work was a huge part of their reported happiness. It’s a self-directed job that allows them to apply their skills and use their gifts. They also reported higher levels of satisfaction and self-acceptance.

Nikolaev said there is an assumption that entrepreneurs experience a higher level of job satisfaction because they have a lot of autonomy and flexibility.

“What we found in our data is that yes, they do experience higher levels of autonomy and control, but other areas like meaning, purpose and engagement were far stronger,” he said.

While their research supported their hypotheses, Nikolaev acknowledged limitations and need for further studies. The study doesn’t address different types of entrepreneurship and different types of entrepreneurs. They also saw the need for longitudinal studies, watching how entrepreneurship and well-being change over time. They’d like to understand what happens over the course of the venture creation process.

Happiness is the engine that fuels good business. People that are happier at work tend to be more engaged, creative and productive. It seems that since Nikolaev’s research indicates that entrepreneurs have higher levels of happiness, it’s good business to keep encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship.

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