Side hustles, micro-businesses, and the moonlighting movement post-COVID
Engagement 4 minute read

Side hustles, micro-businesses, and the moonlighting movement post-COVID

Rise | April 14, 2022

During the pandemic, work from home (WFH) and social bubbles gave employees the opportunity to explore side businesses, with a reported 31% of Canadians pursuing a way to make more income or monetize their passions. In a post-COVID world, should moonlighting still be a concern to employers?

Plenty of employers have a moonlighting policy in place, which explicitly bans employees from working a second job. The wording can often be broad, banning not just employment in the same or a similar industry, but introducing a blanket ban on any extra-work activities that generate income such as running an Etsy shop, being an Uber driver, personal shopper, dog walker, etc.

However, as Alison Green from Ask a Manager points out, “there’s a societal shift going on right now where people are reconsidering what they owe to employers, and factoring in the reality that employers frequently haven’t upheld their own obligations to employees, and how the balance of power in employment can impact the obligations on each side”.

As The Hustle found, only 51% of employees say they love their day job. “The story’s a little more clear with side-hustles: 76% definitively love what they do.” It’s worth pointing out, however, that 52% said they wouldn’t choose to turn their side business into a full-time job, citing “fears of failure and debt, the cost of getting their operation off the ground, concerns over whether or not their side-hustle was in a lucrative industry, and the dilemma of leaving a full-time, stable job for an uncertain future”.

There are some significant advantages to moonlighting that employers might be missing… and missing out on.

The underlying concern behind moonlighting policies is that employees will overtax or overextend themselves—unable to do and be their best at their “day” job.

Yet, even a seemingly unrelated side gig can enrich an individual’s on-the-job performance. An engineer who drives for Uber might do their best thinking on the road. Your customer support agent’s tutoring business could make them better at onboarding colleagues. Does your sales rep bartend in their off time? They’re also honing their communication skills.

“Dabbling is cross-training for the brain,” writes Lisa Evans for Entrepreneur. “Pursuing interests in a variety of subjects stretches the mind and pushes the imagination, causing us to be more creative. Dabbling is simply a way of gathering new information and experimenting with new ways of doing something. It causes you to think differently about everything else that you do, a process which can lead to incredible innovation”.

The analogy of cross-training is apt. The best exercise regimens include cardio, stretching, and strength training because your muscles can grow accustomed to moving a certain way. Similarly, your brain becomes habituated to routine thought patterns, which can hinder a person’s innovation or creativity.

By mobilizing a different skillset after-hours, team members learn different approaches or techniques for problems they encounter every day at work.

From a recruiting standpoint, allowing employees to work a side gig can be a boon.

For starters, job seekers are on the lookout for companies that see their people as more than resources. A strict anti-moonlighting policy can be a detractor for even candidates who have no intention of starting a side gig. As Liz Ryan, founder of The Human Workplace, explains, an absolute no-moonlighting-ever policy is “exactly the type of overreaching, Big-Brotherish practice that corporations only employ when they believe that their team members are insignificant cogs in their machine”.

Most employees will pursue side gigs that are related to their passions rather than their day job. That said, Side Hustle Nation found that freelancing/consulting was the second-most popular side gig. If you do plan to introduce a moonlighting policy, plan to include a section on conflicts of interest. As an example, an employee moonlighting for competitors or your company’s clients is a clear conflict of interest.

Moonlighting during work hours, though rare, can also create what Alison Green describes as “logistical challenges if either of the companies expect [the employee] to be available without much notice for meetings or phone calls”. And, as Alison points out, “it’s highly unethical”.

By laying out explicit expectations around moonlighting, e.g. what kind of work is permissible and when, you encourage your employees to be transparent about any side gigs or micro-businesses.

Moonlighting may have been less common ten years ago, but it’s becoming the new standard in the next normal—McKinsey’s way to describe the post-pandemic work world. With employees having more options and opportunities than ever before, companies who take a tough stance on moonlighting may struggle with retention and be passed over by top-tier candidates.

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