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Should You Support Employee Side Hustles?

February 16, 2021 Leadership
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

The rise of remote work, coupled with changing socioeconomic conditions across the world, may be leading to a surge in employees taking on a side hustle.

In a 2019 survey, Bankrate estimated that 45% of Americans were actively engaged in making money outside their primary job, a number that has undoubtedly risen.

Employees choose to undertake side hustles for a variety of reasons. They may see an opportunity to monetize a hobby. They may have hopes of becoming an entrepreneur or they simply want to earn some extra cash. According to a recent survey by DollarSprout, 27% of active side hustlers use the money to pay bills, and around 18% want to turn it into a full-time job. 

Given the time needed to make a side hustle work, it's fair to wonder how employers should handle their employees who undertake them. Here's how some HR executives and CEOs choose to address the topic. 

Focus on Trust

Since many employees with side hustles already have full-time jobs in a typical 9-to-5 scenario, many choose to work on their side hustle after work and on weekends. Some business leaders also enjoy side hustling themselves, or have done in the past. Those with the experience looking at it from both angles believe that the key to having a side hustle is to prioritize your primary commitments first. 

Respect between employer and employee is fundamental, said Karen Gordon, vice president of growth at Washington, D.C.-based Goodshuffle Pro. "We hired them because we trusted them to complete a job," she said. "All we would ask in return is that they respect us and the job requirements and put them before any other job or side hustle." 

Once the main job is done, most employers are not likely to have a problem with staff taking on additional commitments. "Employees have goals and as long as those goals are accomplished within the stated deadlines then I see no problem with them taking on extra work outside of the company," said Gabriel Dungan, founder and CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based ViscoSoft

In many cases, there is an innate desire to test entrepreneurship's waters or work on a project out of curiosity. According to Shradha Kumari, HR manager at Jakarta, Indonesia-based SurveySensum, sometimes a side hustle is the best way they see to gain experience. "Those employees who are more career-oriented are more likely to be innovative, proactive and organized," Kumari said. "So they consider a side hustle as the best option to come up with their new ideas."

However, while many employers are happy to support side hustles, the impact they could have on work-life balance needs to be considered as well. Dungan said he would rather employees come to him if they were in distress rather than lose all of their personal time.

Related Article: Strategies and Techniques for an Agile, Intrapreneurial Workplace

How to Find Common Ground

The consensus seems to be that side hustles aren't a problem for most employers, but some things should be taken into consideration to avoid potential issues. 

Policies and Contracts

Employers can introduce policies or contract terms that spell out what can and can't be done if an employee chooses to begin a side hustle. The primary goal of any such contract would be to avoid conflicts of interest and prevent employees from working with competitors. Getting approval from employers can be an important first step for employees. 

"Employees are supposed first to ensure that they seek and receive approval from the employer before taking up any additional employment," said Kumari.

While conflict of interest would be the main concern for an employer, they would also want to ensure that employees aren't doing their own thing on company time. "It goes without saying that while on the clock and working with our clients is not the time to pitch your side hustle," Gordon said. 

Be Open and Set Boundaries

While employers should do what they can to support employees in their endeavors, it's also a good idea for employees to show respect to the employer as well. Not every company will have the same rules or attitudes about side hustles. Therefore, it's in their best interest to consult an employee handbook or speak to a manager before starting or continuing any specific side hustles if terms weren't specified in the initial contracts.

Also, given that, for many employees, everything is being done from home, they need to set boundaries so their side hustles don't take away from other priorities in their life outside of work. That can also have an effect on their primary job. 

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