Research into practice

The impact of long working hours on family life is now a matter of
pressing public concern. Yet there is scant information of their
effect on people from ethnic minorities who run their own family
businesses or who are self-employed.

Recent research aimed to understand changing family involvement in
business and its effect on family life.1 Sixty
entrepreneurs in south east England were surveyed, together with 19
family members (mainly the entrepreneurs’ wives). They were
Bangladeshi, east African Asian, Indian, Pakistani and Turkish
Cypriot, with about 12 entrepreneurs in each group.

Key findings highlighted the high level of trust between family
members, who were often willing to provide each other the start-up
funds for their business as well as support for the often long
hours needed to staff the business.

Immediate family members, principally the wives, were able to work
very flexible hours to fit around child care responsibilities. The
burden of responsibility falling upon the women could be four-fold:
caring for children, managing the home, helping in the business and
additional employment to supplement the family income.

The report suggests that these entrepreneurs did not begrudge this
workload or the lack of clear boundaries between home and work as
they all regarded the business as an extension of the family and
for the benefit of the children. More difficult was the issue of
family members who were not good at the work or poor at family
responsibilities as this would have a detrimental effect upon
family life.

Overall, these entrepreneurs worked much longer than the 48 hours a
week recommended by the European working time directive. Many
brought their work home with them, but even this was often seen in
a positive light as it enabled them to keep in closer touch with
their wives and children.

The report found that most entrepreneurs regarded family life as
being very important, and most were satisfied with the time they
spent with their family. It suggested that this was because in part
to the cultural values among Asian people with the emphasis on the
value of hard work, and the fact that the business was seen to be
integral to the family and its well-being.

The study found some differences in attitude between the groups
surveyed. East African entrepreneurs, for example, were more likely
than the others to involve their family members in providing
labour, financial capital and information at all stages of the
development of the business.

But they also tended to recruit professional managers to whom they
delegated responsibility, thereby ensuring a higher sales growth
rate. Nevertheless this group also worked long hours and expressed
most dissatisfaction with their work-life balance.

By contrast, Turkish-Cypriot businessmen seemed reluctant to
recruit professional managers and had weaker business performance.
But because they tended to work a fixed-hour week, and preferred
not to expand their businesses, they felt more satisfied with their
work-life balance.

This is a fascinating insight into the values and attitudes towards
family and business life of these different groups. The research
was small scale, and the findings therefore need to be treated with
caution. But the awareness gained from reading this report will be
of great help for anyone involved with these communities and the
problems they sometimes face.

1 A Basu and E Altinay,
Family and Work in Minority Ethnic Businesses, Joseph
Rowntree Foundation, The Policy Press, 2003

Bernard Moss is a principal lecturer in social work and applied
social studies, and a learning and teaching fellow at Staffordshire

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