Side-hustlers of the world – unite!

Recent research by Henley Business School has revealed that one in four Britons runs at least one business project alongside their full-time job. Alex Diggins chats to Dr Stephan Gerschweski, Lecturer in International Business and Strategy at Henley, about entrepreneurship, mental health and how side-hustling is set to disrupt the corporate world

What, to you, is a side-hustle?

A side-hustle is commonly defined as an additional business project, which people do in addition to their normal ‘nine to five’ main jobs. It can be done on the weekends or the early morning hours; but the important thing is it’s a supplement, not the main job itself.

According to the 2018 Henley Business School report, one in four adults in the UK have a side-hustle (equivalent to 40% of the workforce), and it contributes £72bn to the economy. Therefore, it’s becoming more and more important to the UK economy which is intriguing to me. And, according to that research, 50% of side hustles were established in the last two years – it illustrates how important they’re set to become in the future.

How important is passion to the side-hustler?

Hugely; research has shown that side-hustles are driven by two broad categories of motivation: financial incentive, but more importantly, passion. Passion translates into income but critically that isn’t initially for the money – it’s because these people love what they do.

What part does it play in the economy currently?

The side-hustle economy has increased enormously over the last 10–15 years with the emergence of the internet, advances in communications and transportation technology, and the rise of e-commerce industry (e.g. Amazon, Alibaba, etc).

How big a part can you foresee it playing?

I believe that side-hustles are here to stay. I think that we are seeing the beginnings of the side hustle economy, and I foresee strong growth over the next 20 years or so. I expect the side-hustle economy to reach about £200bn contribution to the UK economy by 2030, which roughly equates to the entire GDP of New Zealand.

I expect the side-hustle economy to reach about £200bn contribution to the UK economy by 2030

What impacts could the side-hustle economy have over employees’ mental health?

This is a complex question with various potential outcomes. I think this depends on the rationale and the motivations for starting a side-hustle.

If the side-hustles are driven primarily by financial needs, then this could have potential negative effects on the mental health of employees. For example, a Deliveroo driver is probably not driven by his love for cycling in the rain! They are also unlikely to feel satisfied long-term with their work/life balance. This could translate into overwork, exhaustion, and a feeling of being overwhelmed and helpless, which can easily spiral into more serious mental health issues of anxiety and depression.

But, according to the Henley Business School study, about 60% of all side-hustlers reported an increase in happiness while pursuing their side-hustles. Thus, while side-hustles lead to more work hours, this may not necessarily be negative, but can often lead to happier and more fulfilled employees with a higher sense of self-actualisation and satisfaction.

How about over the way businesses are conventionally organised?

Currently, the majority of employers do not seem to have formal HR policies and regulations regarding side-hustles. The majority of employers tend not to consider the notion of side-hustles, and they are generally unaware of their employees’ side-hustles, while some employers explicitly prohibit side-hustling. This is mainly driven by the assumption that employees should only focus on their main jobs without being ‘distracted’ by side-hustles.

However, this assumption seems to be flawed as side-hustles can actually increase the happiness levels of employees, therefore it seems to be counter-productive for businesses to blanket-ban side-hustles: employees are likely to be less productive, efficient and, in the long term, it’s likely they’ll leave. Employers should try to embrace flexibility and look after employees’ wellbeing and mental health.

Lastly, side-hustles – the future?

I think side-hustles are here to stay. I believe that side-hustles will become more important not only in the UK economy, but also across the world. This is due to the ease of working remotely from the comfort of your own house with your laptop and an internet connection.

So, let’s hustle on.