Guest Post by Sara Saddington
Almost everyone I know has a side hustle or personal project they work on outside of their regular working hours. Some of them do so with the hope that one day their side project will become their full-time job but, for most, these projects are about personal development and fulfillment that augments and supports their professional identity.
Leaders: Let Your Employees Embrace the Side Hustle
A CareerBuilder Survey shows that 29% of workers have a side hustle, with an even larger showing from the millennial cohort (44% of workers ages 25-39, and 39% of workers ages 18-24). However, with the prevalence of workers who engage in work outside of their “day jobs,” why is it that team leaders are often so reluctant to talk about these projects with their teams?
I spent much of my early career working in the service industry, where there is often an expectation that employees are pursuing another kind of career. When I entered a more traditional work environment, I was shocked to learn that talking about or acknowledging the personal projects I had underway was frowned upon. One manager went so far as to tell me that if I had the time and energy to take on freelance projects, then I clearly wasn’t working hard enough for him. I got the message quickly: my side projects made me seem disloyal or disinterested. I could talk about the concert I’d attended over the weekend, but telling a coworker or manager about plans to spend the evening working on my novel was a problem.
I learned to pack that part of myself away the minute I stepped into the office. I never stopped pursuing outside work; I just learned to be tight-lipped about it. And as a result, my work suffered. It takes a lot of energy to compartmentalize yourself. Worst of all, I couldn’t bring any of the lessons or skills I’d learned through my freelance/personal work to the office with me. I was so concerned about appearing disloyal or uncommitted to my work, that I buried that part of myself, and started quietly looking for other opportunities.
Leaders, if you want your team to give their all at work, you have to allow them to bring their whole selves with them.Tweet
That’s the real irony for me. In any given employment relationship, it’s a possibility that one or both parties are seeking out alternative arrangements. We may not talk about it openly (and for a good reason), but it’s always possible that your star employee is currently interviewing with a competitor, or that your new hire just received a LinkedIn request from a recruiter about a better position. Changing roles is generally viewed as pragmatism, while a side project is viewed as some sort of betrayal.
Leaders, if you want your team to give their all at work, you have to allow them to bring their whole selves with them. Encourage your team to talk about the projects they pursue outside of work, and the insights and skills they’re developing as a result. A passion for painting watercolors can help you develop a great eye for nuance. Working on my novel bit by bit means that I’m constantly engaged in improving my writing and editing skills, even when I’m not doing it for “work.”
Of course, there will be side hustles that could be a conflict of interest for your business. But if you’re not talking about these projects with your team, how can you know if a conflict exists? How could you ever begin to correct it?
I have two great and related frustrations around the way we talk and write about work: the first is reducing entire cohorts of workers to generational labels, the second the ongoing discussions about “work/life balance.” We are all complex creatures, and most of us want to do work that matters, regardless of what year we were born. We also have to work—in “day jobs,” at “side hustles,” and at our relationships with our family and friends. Trying to compartmentalize the various parts of ourselves into discrete and separate units is a fool’s errand, no more likely to create balance than jumping from one side of a scale to the other.
We need to work towards creating cultures where everyone can bring their full selves to work, where experience (even outside of an industry or specific role) is valued, and where the realities of the world we live in are acknowledged and discussed.
Someone on your team has a side hustle. You can treat it as a threat or an opportunity. Which will you choose?
Sara Saddington is the Managing Editor for Actionable.co, a company dedicated to improving the world of work for everyone. Sara manages three blogs for Actionable, in addition to being a lifelong reader, writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. You can read some of her work focused on developing team leaders on Actionable Conversations.