Managers: Support Your Special Nuts

Why you should encourage your employees to side hustle

29% of all workers have a second job according to a survey mentioned in this 2016 Forbes article. In fact, the survey found that almost 1 in every 2 people (44%) in my age group (25–34) does side work.

I began my career in architecture. As a junior designer I didn’t dare take on side work… which worked out because I didn’t have the skills yet to drum up any said work. However, as I gained experience, opportunities for side projects began to present themselves. The policy at my firm was that side work was acceptable as long as:

  1. It didn’t inhibit your ability to contribute to your daily work at the company
  2. It did not involve work in the field of architecture

Makes sense right? Well, sorta. I completely get the first point, but the second point was always too vague for me. Architecture is a HUGE field, and no firm works on all aspects of it. My side jobs involved small residential scale projects…my firm worked on large commercial and multi-family residential projects. None of my projects ever presented any threat to my company’s business, and this is how I justified myself. Maybe I misunderstood the whole kibosh-on-all-architecture-side-work thing (I am a first born child, so I can’t help but pay close attention to rules), but that was always my perception of how it was communicated.

Quick side note: I should qualify that I wrote this article from the perspective of employees who side hustle in the same field that they work in full time. For example, a full-time architect who works at Starbucks on the weekends will likely not fit as nicely within my points. There are many examples that I did not discuss in this article; however, I do believe that the merits of side work can be applied across the different scenarios that exist. Now, on with the article.

Fast forward to the end of my architecture career, which was also the beginning of my current career at Granify in UX/UI. I had just finished a graphics project and was in the middle of designing a house, both on the side, when I applied at Granify. One of my questions during the interview was : side projects, you guys cool with that? The answer was yes. No hesitation. No caveats. No conditions. In fact, the two designers interviewing me said that they always had side work on the go and that it was quite common in the company. While this wasn’t necessarily a deciding factor for me accepting the position (I would have just continued to do secret side work like before), it did represent a difference in company culture to me. The more I thought (and continue to think) about it, the more this paradigm makes sense to me.

Companies shouldn’t just allow side work, they should WANT their employees to side hustle.

Here’s why:

  1. The best employees will want more than a 9–5. Given the choice between employees who are the best in their field and work on the side and employees who are mediocre but work solely for your company, who would you choose? The fact is that people who are good at what they do are constantly in demand…beyond the boundaries of the company they work at. Clamp down on side work and there is a good chance that these employees will either become miserable or find somewhere else to work that is less totalitarian. Side hustlers are independents with entrepreneurial spirits, and these are the employees that are typically your highest producers.
  2. Side work provides an outlet. What do you do if you are highly independent, entrepreneurial, and want to try new things without bureaucratic red tape? Side work. Doing projects outside of their typical full-time work allows your employees to experiment and make decisions on their own. While they may be a junior at your company, they can be the boss in their side work. While their day-to-day company work may feel dry and unrewarding at times, they have the ability to choose what they want to work on in their side projects. For high achievers, this independence is a welcome recharge after those occasional boring days at work.
  3. Free training! What if I told you about a training program for your employees that taught them management, client relations, skills improvement, and budgeting… for free. Would you be interested? Of course you would! That is precisely what side work does. As mentioned in the previous point, side projects allow employees to be their own boss. This teaches them all the responsibilities of being the boss, and they quickly learn that when something fails in a side project, it is on them to fix it. You benefit from this in two ways: first, they learn to be better problem solvers out of necessity, and second, they gain an appreciation for the role that you play as a manager in their company.
  4. Networking. In my experience, senior management does not always understand just how difficult it can be for more junior employees to build professional contacts. Networking is easy once you have a base established, but when you are starting from scratch it can feel like you are simply wandering from one event to another desperately trying to meet people. Side projects provide a very easy way to expand your network. Granted, it takes contacts to get a side project in the first place, but I would argue that side projects advance one’s sphere of influence much faster than attending events. As your employees complete side projects and gain renown in the industry they bring their reputation and contacts back to your company. The more side projects they complete the more people they meet, and the more likely that one of these people needs some work done that is beyond the current capabilities of the employee. At that point where does the employee refer the work? Quite likely to your company if they are happy working there.

As I finish my rant, I would like to reiterate my first point: The best employees will want more than a 9–5. Side projects act as a litmus test for you as an employer, proving that the employee is obsessed with what they do. Only a crazy person would work full time for a company and then work some more on the side. It takes a special kind of nut to want to work that much… a special kind of nut who doesn’t really consider it to be work but rather a passion that they happen to get paid for. You want these special nuts working at your company.

Now, go and support your special nuts!