by Neha Gopinath and Jay Mitra
A decade or so of stormy economic weather, social fragmentation and institutional failures around the world, has, paradoxically, focused people’s minds on possible solutions. Thus inequality, demographic changes, rapid technological development, environmental pollution, climate change, poverty, and migration, are issues which need urgent resolution or mitigation. The resolution, so public and scientific punditry suggests, may be found in a pronounced effort at sustainable economic and social development, controlled globalisation, ecological husbandry, socially driven enterprise, fair working conditions, and the measurement of social impact. The United Nations has set seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to encapsulate ways and means to transform our world. The interventions of many may address, and hopefully achieve, some of these goals.
Our interest is in how these large macro level dynamics of sustainability play out in the lives of people, in particularly, their creative environment at work, in their roles as entrepreneurs and workers, especially in small, innovative firms, which form the backbone of most economies. This has led us to examine two ostensibly unrelated phenomena which have captured the imagination of public policy makers, private business practitioners and academic researchers, namely, entrepreneurship and well-being. These issues find their sustainable development home in SDGs 8 and 17.
By entrepreneurship, we refer to the identification, development and implementation of economic and social opportunities to produce new goods, provide novel services, and establish new ventures, essentially through the creative mobilisation of human, financial and social capital. Since the latter half of the last century, much store has been set by the ‘elixir’ of entrepreneurship in creating most new jobs, using new technology to produce new goods and services, and generally improving business and social ventures in our societies. Perhaps excessive attention has been given to the talismanic capabilities of entrepreneurs to drive such change, while ignoring the contributions of those around them and their well-being in generating creative, innovative outcomes. Smaller firms depend, more so than their larger counterparts, on the creative combinations of ideas, resources and the endeavours of both the entrepreneurs and the small team of employees and associates in their networks.
By well-being, we consider the positive emotions and feelings of happiness people experience, or the feeling that we are doing something meaningful and purposeful in life. In an entrepreneurial context, we could interpret a range of behaviours and psychological process linked to entrepreneurial success, including positive self-perceptions, belief in others, and intricate mental tasks, such as creativity, flexibility and innovation. 
The wellbeing of people at work has dominated the headlines of numerous business and research publications. Popular appraisals of the ‘best companies to work for’ show, for example, that while
business giants such as Safeway and Haggen in the USA, Morrison and Tesco in the UK, Infosys in India, have announced declining profits and layoffs in a climate of distrust, skulduggery, and limited concern for general welfare of all its stakeholders people (employees, customers and other stakeholders), smaller, family-owned, private companies such as Publix has never made an employee redundant in its 86-year history while increasing its revenue to $30.6 billion from a previous sum of $24.5 billion. The absence of such well-being at work has tarnished Uber’s image as one of the most successful unicorns in the world, reflecting in part the human cost of a dystopian reality of entrepreneurial management practice.
Researchers have indicated that well-being acts as a natural motivator, improves physical health and longevity and promotes positive relationships, which can act as a catalyst for success for the organisation, and in turn, the economy. The literature on entrepreneurial and innovative organisations (especially small and medium sized enterprises) refer to the need for shared vision, the importance of creativity, autonomy and self-efficacy; but they are directed towards the locus of control of the entrepreneur. The concept of dynamic capabilities focuses on the abilities to introduce new or re-shape firm’s resources and routines in the image and vision of its entrepreneur(s) and, in some cases the management team. We know less about the dynamics of interactions between the entrepreneur(s) and the rest of the team of people. Continuous, adrenalin fuelled environments may not be conducive to creative, innovative outcomes and the well-being of the entrepreneurs and other team members. The development of organisations can be hampered if individuals are unable to achieve their aspirational goals.
We see the nexus of people, structure, organisations and environment enabling entrepreneurship. Each of these components entails the various relationships between individuals structures within a firm and the environment. The current limitations in the use of the human element in the literature suggest the need for ‘stretch’ and new conceptual combinations.
Amartya Sen has proposed the idea of ‘functionings’ as what people want to achieve in their lives). We adapt Sen’s ideas to argue that ‘functionings’ are what people (both the entrepreneur and his employees) want to achieve in their organisations as individuals. These functionings are facets like autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, self-acceptance, creativity, freedom to grow, training and development, many more which enhances their sense of purpose and wellbeing as individuals in entrepreneurial organisations. We ask:
Is there a probable relationship between entrepreneurial organisational culture and employees’ mental health and well-being?
What are the factors that affect employees’ well-being in an entrepreneurial organisation? How and why are they important?
How does the need to become and sustain an entrepreneurial organisation affect employees’ wellbeing and mental health at work?
Our research adopts an interpretivist approach to gain in-depth insights into how people perceive wellbeing at work in small entrepreneurial firms. We examine three types of entrepreneurial firms – high technology businesses, social enterprises and networked, community-based firms. Our early findings indicate that entrepreneurial organisations are better able to understand what hinders the well-being of their people. However, their entrepreneurial capabilities could be jeopardised when dysfunctional relationships, procedures, policies and compromises with the creative process breeds a culture of stress, anxiety and negative well-being. Perceptions of negativity could damage the individual’s self-worth, his/her ability to make a worthwhile contribution, and impede entrepreneurial outcomes.
Based on the questions above and our initial exploratory research finding we have developed six propositions and an analytical framework with which to examine in more detail the significance of the relationship between well-being and entrepreneurship. Given the growing importance of sustainable entrepreneurial ventures, better working conditions and decent work for economic growth and social development, we believe continuing research on this relationship could have profound effects on how new or established, entrepreneurial ventures could foster a new model for work and enterprise, stimulating sustainable economic growth and social development.
Figure 1: A Framework for analysing the relationship between the Well-Being of People and the Entrepreneurial Firm
We look forward to working with all who are keen to safeguard the value of entrepreneurial talent and those who help foster and support such talent to promote the search for innovative solutions to overcoming barriers to sustainable working lives. Both sustainability and entrepreneurship are dependent on negating the idea of things remaining the same; both act as instruments for transformation of people’s lives now and in the future.
Neha Gopinath: Doctoral Researcher, Essex Business School, University of Essex, UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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