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5 Pitfalls to Avoid When You Do Side Gigs

Whatever the motive - earning some extra cash, learning a new skill, contributing to a cause, or preparing for a career transition - there is a growing number of those who do a little bit on the side, in addition to their full-time job. Lynda Gratton from London Business School asserts the trend, “People are hungry to craft lives that integrate diverse activities — work, side businesses, family, continuing education — and have a personalized trajectory. Many people are relishing the possibility of autonomy and flexibility."

Side gigs range from putting in a few hours on Fiverr, Lyft, or TaskRabbit to setting up your own business. Marinating pickles in your garage… Or quilting and selling those on EtsyZapier survey found that almost a third of Americans have a side gig, and this trend is picking up, fueled both by the extra flexibility and the economic necessity, courtesy of Covid.

It is not surprising that many employers (and employees) are apprehensive about such arrangements. Maybe they shouldn't be.

A recent article in the Academy of Management Journal with an intriguing title "Do the Hustle!" explored the effects of side gigs (they called them "hustles") on feeling empowered and being productive in the full-time job. Researchers found that the performance boost from hustles was much stronger than the strain resulting from combining those with a day job. Interestingly, the more complex the side gig was, the more empowered people felt. When it comes to careers, a little agency goes a long way.

It's safe to assume that the trend is here to stay in some shape or form. Many are wondering how to get this right. Here are the pitfalls to avoid:

1. Not knowing why you are doing this.

Knowing why directionally aligns your career choices. Taking on more work implies time, effort and discipline. When you do a side gig that is in concordance with your greater career goals, you are better off both in short- and long-term.

2. Not letting your boss know.

Don't think that you will be able to keep your side gig secret. Maybe for a while. But in the majority of large organizations, not informing your manager about gainful employment with another company is a hop, skip, and a jump from getting in trouble with the Compliance department.

Contracts in some companies expressly prohibit additional employment. Others may restrict you in the types of companies you can side-gig with, for example, with direct competitors or potential vendors. Have a read of your contract or company policies again and see if there is a way: maybe you are allowed to do pro-bono work or do the gig if abiding by certain conditions.

In any case, your boss needs to know. Apart from the fact that it is likely required by the company policies, getting your manager on board can be a smart thing to do. She can help you find ways to cross-pollinate between the jobs and there will be situations when you'll need time off or air cover.

3. Doing more of what you do in your day job.

Development and growth come from diversity and variety of experiences. If you have a choice, why would you do on the side what you do every day already? Novel and exciting projects will keep you more motivated and will help you develop new skills. Remember the finding that side gig complexity is positively related to empowerment? There should be a certain degree of challenge to keep you motivated and feeling in control.

4. Missing opportunities for positive spillover.

If you are learning new skills in a gig, why wouldn't you apply them at work? This will likely improve your output, creativeness of your ideas, and overall efficiency. Be intentional in identifying opportunities for crossover.

5. Letting the main job performance slip.

Slacking on the results in your day job may be the end of your gig. You must make sure that the levels of performance in both are at adequately high levels. In the pandemic times, some discovered that even doing two full-time jobs was possible, but that's extreme, borderline unethical, and hardly sustainable.

A parting thought... Remember that you can always find a side gig within the organization! If your objective is to learn, get out of a rut, or find a creative outlet for your energy, there is always an extra project somewhere. Never let a job description define your job.

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