Some employees spend their days working on things related to talent acquisition, employee engagement, and the future of work. But come five o’clock, their work changes to things like interior design or writing Shakespearean sonnets — and that’s okay.

Freelance work or side gigs are common among employees these days, and for good reason. After all, what someone does after hours is their concern—not the company’s.

A non-issue

Plenty of employers ban their people from taking on any sort of second job, whether it’s running an Etsy shop or writing for a magazine. They worry that team members will overtax themselves and be unable to deliver their best at their day job.

Well, training for a marathon is taxing. So is taking an evening language class. And yet it’s hard to imagine a business prohibiting activities like these—in fact, ‘wellness’ is a favourite corporate buzzword, second only to ‘professional development.’ Healthier people make for more productive employees; hobbies develop skills that can apply to work projects. These outside activities have a ripple effect that’s actually good for business. The same is true of your team members’ side gigs. A second job can make people even better at their first one.

The advantage

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 team member’s tutoring business could make them better at onboarding new staff. Does your sales rep bartend in their off time? Note that they’re also honing those small talk skills.

More and more, companies are realising these perks. One of Microsoft’s  Account Executives, for example, runs a separate publication that features local business leaders. Microsoft supports the initiative, knowing that this individual’s work builds her brand, but also the company’s brand.

“Dabbling is cross-training for the brain,” writes Lisa Evans for Entrepreneur. The analogy 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 mobilising a different skillset after hours, team members learn different approaches or techniques for problems they encounter every day at work. And wouldn’t you rather they do that than watch Netflix?

The talent side

Allowing team members to work a side gig is also good from a recruiting standpoint. These days, job seekers are on the lookout for companies that see their people as more than resources—and so even those with no intention of starting a side gig will be alarmed by an anti-moonlighting policy. As Liz Ryan, founder of The Human Workplace, explains, it’s “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.”

Not exactly the message that most companies want to send.

Besides, think about what kind of people are interested in pursuing a side gig. They’re hardworking, self-motivated, and passionate enough to take on extra work. Are those really the kind of people you want your employer brand to alienate?

Best practices

Companies that prohibit moonlighting are not, by and large, big bad wolves. There are potential issues with allowing team members to take on a second job: a conflict of interest arises if they moonlight for competitors or company clients, for example, and they certainly shouldn’t be using office supplies to run their side business.

That’s where the people and culture department comes in. You need a moonlighting policy, preferably written in plain English. Yeah, it’s more complicated than flat out forbidding second jobs or freelance work—but it’s also more future-friendly. As the gig economy continues to grow, people expect their companies to allow more autonomy at work—so of course, they demand that independence after hours!

By laying out some basic expectations, like what kind of work is permissible, you encourage team members to be transparent about side gigs they’ve lined up. Here at Rise, some of our employees discussed freelancing with their managers before signing their contracts—and because of that, no issues have ever arisen. Keeping communication channels open will ensure the same is true within your team.

The bottom line? People don’t want to lose their day jobs and you don’t want to miss out on A players. A clear moonlighting policy will mitigate the possibility of both.

Moonlighting may have been less common ten years ago, but it’s starting to become the new standard. Every millennial has a micro-business. Thanks to companies like Airbnb or Uber, contract opportunities abound. No wonder the number of filed 1099s (Independent Contractor) forms has increased by 22 percent since the year 2000.

We understand that this may seem threatening—you don’t want all-stars to leave your company and embark on their own. But remember: a side gig isn’t the same as self-employment. Even though the number of 1099s has risen, the number of Americans who identify as self-employed has actually dropped—from 7.7 percent to 6.5 percent.

The gig economy everyone talks about seems to be more of a side-gig economy, with people moonlighting in their off hours. In an uncertain professional market, ‘don’t quit your day job’ remains good advice.

Rather than fighting the moonlighting movement, why not make it work for you? Your company now has access to a whole network of professionals still happily employed elsewhere. Just because you can’t woo them into joining your team doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from their advice: hire them for freelance or contract work instead.

Over to you

What are your thoughts on employees having second jobs or contract gigs? Share your comments with us — we’d love to hear from you.