As we, sooner or later, look at an economy beyond the pandemic (with hopefully the Omicron variant being just a hiccup) there is one aspect of how a lot of people work that has crept up on us over the years and has generally been accepted as not a bad thing – the side hustle. But for some time now I’ve been concerned that this cool-sounding, funky term actually disguises something much more invidious and that is a reliance of too many people to need more than one job; and an unwillingness of employers to pay a proper wage.
From what I can see, side hustles fall into different categories: doing something you enjoy in your spare time that may or may not make a little money (often traditionally known as a ‘hobby’) is one. Alternatively, it may be a more serious undertaking: one of my senior colleagues here at TALiNT Partners is a trained counsellor and does important work with her clients outside of her work with us from which she gets a great deal of fulfilment. Calling this a side hustle, whilst technically accurate, feels disrespectful and a bit demeaning.
There are jobs done by students whilst studying or during the summer holiday. Back in my day these were mainly referred to as, er, student jobs! I do have a friend whose daughter continues to offer tutoring to students while she studies to qualify as a lawyer. To be fair, that’s a great example of a ‘side-hustle’ although I’m pretty sure once she qualifies as a lawyer and has her 2,000 billable hours to hit, it will almost certainly fall by the wayside.
Renting your spare room used to be called ‘having a lodger’ now it’s having a side hustle through Airbnb. I’m not sure I see much of a difference.
But by far most of the people who seem to have a side hustle – Uber drivers, Deliveroo riders, cleaners – are people who are generating income to pay rent, buy food and generally do the things they need to and there’s nothing ‘side’ about it; it is income that is central to their ability to get by.
A 2019 survey from CV Library suggested that 60% of people who had a ‘side hustle’ were doing it to supplement their basic income and it’s likely that COVID-19 will have made this worse rather than better.
The government announcement of the rise of the national living wage will undoubtedly make a difference, but I can’t help but think that de-glamourising this notion of a side-hustle and calling it what it is for most people and that it’s an essential element of their income – will also help.
So, for most people, a side hustle isn’t optional, and it certainly isn’t cool. And as we look across the economy at sectors desperate for staff – the care sector, hospitality, driving and warehouse staff to name a few, I can’t help but think that those employers who pay enough to have 100% of the work effort from their people, especially those who have shown the commitment, drive and often ingenuity to hold down more than one job will reap enormous benefits. That would be a nice result all round.