Are you a data scientist and budding writer who wants to set up your own magazine? Perhaps you’re a busy managerial accountant who dreams of one day running photography workshops at the weekends? Or maybe you’re a teacher who wants to generate additional income by selling your metalwork sculptures? These are all real stories of real people that have successfully set up their own ‘side hustles’.
So, a side hustle is just a second job, right? Wrong.
I’m sure many of you are reading this feeling confused as to what exactly a side hustle is, or perhaps harbour some misconceptions. So, let me rewind a little.
Granted, there are a lot of conflicting definitions and opinions out there about what exactly is classed as a side hustle and what isn’t. And your opinion may well differ from mine. But my thoughts on this are aligned very much to those of author and speaker, and founder of the Side Hustle School, Chris Guillebeau, who is widely thought of as an authority in this area.
In my mind, a side hustle isn’t a second job you do for another employer when you get home after your 9-5 job, like Uber driving for instance. Driving an Uber isn’t a side hustle, it’s a part time job. There’s a big difference.
As Guillebeau puts it, side hustles are about creating assets, and creating them in a way that you own and control – they’re not about working for another employer in your spare time. As such, when you set up a side hustle, you are the master of its destiny, nobody else. It’s yours and yours alone.
A side hustle can bring you both economic empowerment and often a huge amount of creative freedom. As such, they’re often born from a passion, as creative strategist Nicaila Matthews Okome says in her TED video: “A side hustle is a little different to a second job, a second job is about necessity. While a side hustle can certainly bring in additional income, it’s a little more aspirational. Side hustles capture a certain kind of scrappy, entrepreneurial spirit.”
Are we seeing a rise in side hustlers? Yes.
The stats on this are mind blowing and almost incomprehensible – according to Henley Business School, as many as one in four people in the UK are running at least one business project alongside their day job. Over in the US, nearly 40% of workers have a side hustle, with many, many more seriously considering it. That’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit being released! Also, as cited in this Harvard Business Review piece, a recent Deloitte survey of millennial and Gen Z workers show that nearly two-thirds of respondents would consider a side hustle to supplement their full time employment.
Do people start side hustles because they hate their day jobs? No.
A craving for variety and creativity: I’ve written before about the fact that we are living longer, and thus will probably be retiring later in our lives, with the majority working well into our 70s or even 80s. So if many of us will be working for longer, the reality is that many won’t feel satisfied if they only focus their entire careers on one single thing they are interested in or passionate about, a thought echoed by Okome. Therefore side hustles give a kind of creative outlet or even a release – an opportunity to use those skills that you might not be able to use in your 9-5 job. That in itself must be extremely fulfilling.
The opportunity to tap into hidden passions and interests: The reality is that we are all interested in and passionate about lots of things, and these interests and passions change and evolve over time. I believe that’s at the heart of why most side hustles are set up. Not because the person hates their job and wants to escape in some way. In fact, according to Henley Business School, 73% of side hustles are set up to explore a passion or follow a new challenge. As Okome says in this TED video, “People are multi-passionate. Not every side hustle is set up because someone hates their job. Many are started simply because people are interested in lots of different things…It doesn’t mean you’re not committed to your job, it just means that you have other outlets that bring you joy.”
An opportunity to upskill: Stepping out on your own and generating an additional income from doing something you’re interested in, whether that be writing, consulting, cooking, coaching, speaking or setting up your own doggy day care, will teach you a whole myriad of skills you may not have the opportunity to learn and practice in your 9-5. As marketing strategist and professional speaker, Dorie Clark says in her Harvard Business Review article, “…even if you love your job and keep it forever, a small dose of entrepreneurship can teach you new skills and enrich your perspective, making you that much more indispensable at work.”
Additional income: There’s no skirting around it. Many set up side hustles as a way to generate a little extra income, or just to save for the proverbial rainy day. In fact, a survey by the automated investing platform Betterment, found that 70% of side hustlers are doing so for financial reasons.
Should employers be fearful of side hustles? No.
So, I think we’ve now established what a side hustle is, and the fact that they’re growing in popularity. It’s clear to see that side hustling is here to stay, and that’s no bad thing in my mind, for reasons which I’ll go on to shortly.
However, in an employer’s mind, the very thought that many of their staff could already have side hustles (or are seriously thinking about setting them up), may, at first thought, cause worry and apprehension. Maybe their staff won’t be able to get the balance right and they’ll get burnout. Or perhaps they’ll work on their side project in company time or using company property? Or worse, maybe they’ll eventually quit once their side hustle takes off. I understand these worries, they are understandable and I’m sure relatable to many. In fact, they are backed up by research.
However, I also believe that employers must not live in fear of the side hustle. As I said, they’re not going away. So, you have no choice but to change your perspective and start to see them for all the good things they will bring to your team and ultimately your business. If you really think about it, by side hustling, your employees are:
- Upskilling themselves, and bringing these new skills back to the office, where others can benefit
- Building their confidence and resilience by being their own boss and pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone
- Forming a better understanding of who they are and how they work, enabling them to bring their whole selves to work, and do that work in a way that suits them best – which can only be a good thing
- Gaining experience of new environments, new industries and new ways of doing things, meaning they are far more likely to bring this level of open-mindedness and big picture thinking back to their day job
- Constantly solving problems and taking risks independently, and translating this approach to help drive creative thinking and innovation in your own business
When we look internally in my own business at people development and succession planning, we are often looking for broader roles and projects to stretch our future leaders so that they become more rounded and skilled in preparation for their next step up. If they are learning some of those broader skills in their side hustle, that actually helps the situation.
And lastly, and most importantly, your side hustling employees will likely feel happier and more fulfilled because they are spending time creating or working on something they are passionate about. That’s not a threat to their day job – in fact, it puts them in a great position to give their all in the time that they are working for you. As Danny Harmer, Chief People Office at Metro Bank says in this HR Magazine article, “If someone has interests and things that fulfil them they’ll be happy. As long as someone comes to work for us and they love their job, they fit with the culture and they’re aligned to our business, it’s fine.”
The way we work is constantly evolving, and I think the rise in side hustles is a great example of that. So, I’d love to hear from those of you who have a side hustle – what is yours, does your employer know about it, and what skills has it taught you?
About this author
Alistair has been the CEO of Hays, plc since Sept. 2007. An aeronautical engineer by training (University of Salford, UK, 1982), Alistair commenced his career at British Aerospace in the military aircraft division. From 1983-1988, he worked Schlumberger filling a number of field and research roles in the Oil & Gas Industry in both Europe and North America.
In 2002, he returned to the UK as CEO of Xansa, a UK based IT services and back-office processing organisation. During his 5 year tenure at Xansa, he re-focused the organisation to create a UK leading provider of back-office services across both the Public and Private sector and built one of the strongest offshore operations in the sector with over 6,000 people based in India.