What Does the Rise of the Side Hustle Tell Us About Modern Work?

Across the professional world, a growing number of people are choosing to spend their free time working.

I’m not talking about the ‘always-on’ corporate culture that has us checking emails during evenings and weekends, but rather personal projects designed to boost cash flow and broaden horizons – also known as side hustles.

According to research by CareerBuilder, nearly a third (32%) of US workers are now engaging in some kind of work outside of their regular jobs, with millennials and GenZ leading the way – 41% of under 35s now have a side hustle compare with 27% of over 35s.   

So what’s behind the rise of the side hustle, and what does this trend tell us about our changing attitudes to work?

Technology and the rise of the side hustle

The idea of making a bit of money on the side is nothing new. People have been doing it for as long as anyone can remember. What has changed in recent times, however, is the sheer range of possibilities available to us, brought about by modern technology.

In the past, our private endeavours were restricted by location and reach. We relied on word of mouth in a literal sense, and finding customers was a challenge itself. These factors were enough to put most people off trying to build alternative revenue streams.

Today, however, you can build a brand, market yourself, and reach customers across the globe – all from the comfort of your own home.

Whether its designing and selling your own clothing, teaching foreign languages online, creating digital content, or simply advertising more traditional services via a website, technology has opened the door to a world of new opportunities.

Necessity or choice?

Aside from technology, there are other reasons why an increasing number of people – particularly young adults – are spending their free time working instead of playing.

As wages stagnate and the cost of living increases, it is harder than ever for people to make ends meet. For many young adults, even the dream of owning a home seems far-fetched, no matter how hard they work. Side hustles provide additional cash flows that can really make a difference.

For others, the reasons for starting a side hustle are just as much personal as they are financial. People want to work on something they are passionate about and believe in. They want the chance to improve their skills, to challenge themselves, to learn and grow. What’s more, there is clearly a freedom and autonomy to this type of work that people crave.

What does this tell us about regular employment?

If people are searching for professional meaning outside of work, it’s clear that they aren’t getting enough of it in work. In this sense, the side hustle is a reflection of the current employee engagement crisis. In a rapidly changing world, employees’ professional needs and expectations simply aren’t being met by their employers.

So how can employers give their employees the freedom, autonomy, and meaning that they crave? Well, they can start by understanding what makes side hustles so engaging, fun, and interesting – and then try to give their employees more of those things in the workplace. This could be through flexible working, flatter organisation structures, or increased autonomy at all levels.

Currently, there is a stark contrast between how people operate at work and how they operate in their side hustles. At work, most employees are told where, when, and even how to do their jobs, with major decisions about the direction of their work usually made by someone else. But in their side hustles, they get to become leaders, decision-makers, and creative thinkers. No doubt many people are wondering ‘why can’t my job be more like this?’

Employers also need to know that the side hustle, along with the growing gig economy and the rise of portfolio careers, is just another manifestation of the changing nature of work. The days of long-term, full-time employment – the regular 9-to-5 – are numbered. Technology is freeing people to explore new options, and has unleashed a wave of entrepreneurial thinking and creativity. Rather than fearing this trend, businesses should harness it. 


Nick Edwards - http://www.praguecopywriter.com

Nicholas Edwards is a freelance writer and editor based in Prague, the Czech Republic. When he's not helping local businesses master the English language, he loves writing about the future of work for People First. 

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