I know a financial advisor in Minnesota who moonlights as an Uber driver. Another friend of mine works full time in IT and fixes computers on the weekends. At least three of my graduate professors edit literary journals on the side, and I can name at least a dozen more for whom teaching is actually a side job. When I browse blogging gigs online, many specifically ask for lawyers, doctors, accountants, or other professionals to provide paid blog content. We live in the age of the side gig, and it seems like everybody has one.
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And, apparently, everybody does, according to the latest WorkSphere survey from Spherion Staffing. Eighty-five percent of survey respondents said they hold at least one side gig in addition to their primary job. Of those, more than half hold two or more side gigs.
"A 'side gig' essentially refers to any secondary source of employment that workers hold in addition to their primary job," explains Lynn Billing, senior vice president at Spherion. "In today's culture, side gigs take many forms, ranging from in-person jobs ... to jobs that can be completed periodically at home."
There is as much variation in how workers approach their side gigs as there is in the types of side gigs people have.
"Basically, it is up to the worker to determine how many hours he or she can devote to a side gig over a given period of time without hindering primary job productivity and personal responsibilities," Billing says. "Some workers opt to participate in a side gig only as their schedule allows, such as through a freelancing job or driving for a ride-sharing service on certain weekends. Others may operate a full-on business, such as an online craft or baked goods service, which requires more time and attention."
What almost all side gigs have in common – and what makes them so attractive – is that, to some extent, they allow people to take control of their work and dictate their own schedules.
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How Side Gigs Affect Primary Employment
When employees pursue other passions outside of their day jobs, employers may feel the effects. Forty-eight percent of respondents to the WorkSphere survey claimed they were very or extremely concerned that their side gigs could interfere with their main jobs, and a similar number said they've used vacation days at their main jobs to work on their side gigs.
"The rising side gig movement has presented employers and employees with new challenges around how to balance interest in secondary jobs with productivity and performance – for both individuals and companies – at primary jobs," Billing says.
Forty percent of employers have gone as far as instituting formal policies around side gig involvement for employees, according to the survey.
"The primary reason employers gave for side gig policies is a desire to keep employees focused on their work," Billing explains. "While that may sound restrictive at first, the survey also found that employees themselves admit difficulties in balancing their various workloads."
Some companies have found that employee side gigs affect more than just the single worker who holds the gig.
"Surprisingly, employers also cite a desire to keep a side-gig worker's colleagues focused as a reason for implementing policies," Billing says. "More than half of workers say they would prefer that their cohorts not discuss their side gigs at the office. Beyond a potential distraction, employers might be concerned that their workers would feel pressured to take part in a fellow employee's side gig."
However, getting too restrictive about what employees do outside of work could easily backfire on a company.
"Our data simply reinforces the need for greater dialogue between companies and their workers to set boundaries that allow for side gig participation in a responsible and productive manner," says Billing. "As the race for talent escalates ... employers already are walking a thin line with regard to retention. Should they set stricter policies or attempt to limit workers' involvement in side gigs, those workers may opt to seek roles at other companies [that are] more accommodating of their interests."
Billing advises employers to "be as open and flexible as possible."
"Look at the bright side of side gigs – namely, the potential for improved worker morale and possible new business opportunities," Billing says.
Forty-two percent of respondents to the survey said that they got involved in a side gig to supplement their income. As such, it's possible that raising salaries could decrease workforce involvement in side gigs.
That being said, many workers would continue their side gigs even if they made more money.
"For many workers, a side gig means more than a paycheck," Billing says. "It serves instead as an opportunity to tap into a personal passion, hobby, or interest that has yet to carry over into a full-time job."
Twenty-six percent of workers considering taking on side gigs in the next year said they would prefer gigs in areas "completely unrelated to their primary jobs," Billing says. "Of those workers, 45 percent said they would still take part in a side gig even if it did not generate significant income. Others cited interest in pursuing new skills, the ability to work with friends or family, and even a desire to be productive in their free time as non-monetary inspirations for side gigs."
But All My Friends Are Doing It
Many who get involved in side gigs do so simply because they feel as if they should.
"As with any social or professional trend, the feeling of being left out can be a motivator," Billing says. "It's possible that workers may see their friends, family, or fellow colleagues taking on secondary jobs and feel that these folks may consider them lazy or unmotivated if they do not follow suit. In the workplace, certain employees may feel that their managers or company leaders would hold a worker who pushes him- or herself and refines his or her skills through a side gig in greater esteem."
Forty-seven percent of survey respondents claimed that societal norms have set the expectation that at least one side gig is necessary, and 18 percent of workers holding side gigs said they only do it because it's considered standard in the modern workforce.
"Despite the trend, picking up a side gig simply because everyone else is [doing it] is far from a best practice," Billing says. "It's up to employees to determine if they can put time and effort into side gigs without compromising their personal and professional responsibilities."
That being said, Billing cautions workers not to rule out side gigs entirely. If the right opportunity comes along, they should take it.
"Employees may find that they enjoy their workdays more if they can balance their regular jobs with something fun and challenging on the side," Billing says.