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  • Caroline Ridgway

When the Whole Job is One Big Side Hustle

Scrolling through LinkedIn, Medium.com, Instagram or other related platforms, you see a lot of references to side hustles. In the golden age, at least to date, of the gig economy, wherein lots more people look to create their own living, finding reliable, viable job opportunities dwindling, the side hustle has become standard nomenclature. The promise of thousands-of-dollars-per-month side hustles, however, doesn’t totally square with reality. I’d argue, at that point, it’s just your job. Welcome to freelancing.

The various arguments in favor or against aside, the bigger and more pertinent question is about sustainability, and future evolutions of side hustling and gig working. COVID-19 has taught us many things. Among them, if you let your employees work from home, your entire organizational structure will not crumble. Productivity, in some instances, may even go up (negatively correlated with having to concurrently home-school your kids during pandemic-driven school closures).

In recent years, the business community has had more hallelujah epiphanies about how treating your team well will in turn contribute to your business doing well. Some people perform great working in an office setting. Some not as much. There’s increasing, belated acknowledgement that open-concept office floorplans are counterproductive. Regardless, life happens. Sometimes you have to tend to it, and sometimes it can only be done between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday.

As with most things, since this is the way my mind works, I think a lot of what needs to happen going forward is in how we frame and talk about these phenomena. Even the terms “side hustles” and “gig work” devalue these professionals’ contributions. Far from seeing it simply as a cost-savings to your company, look at it as hiring a skilled worker with beneficial talents. Even that a thing like the side hustle exists is problematic. It’s just a pretty way of saying that people, commonly in creative fields, need to get a second job to supplement their income.

A lot of freelancers came to their current vocation from previously high-level backgrounds and careers. I, for one, have a law degree that I worked my tail off for, and worked in offices with big-deal people on important tasks. If I call what I’m doing now ‘consulting’ does that make it sound more serious? If I tell you that I sometimes earn much less per hour than an experienced plumber, how does that come across? And, by the way, why did plumbers get labeled as the poster children for trades that earn surprisingly good money? A skill is a skill, and if I need a talented plumber I don’t argue with the rate; I happily pay, because goodness knows my own attempts at repair are unlikely to end well. And, when they quote me for a job, I doubt they quake as they say the number, wondering nervously if they’re asking for more than they’re worth.

I’m not opposed to shifts in how the world works. Maybe this is a slow-burning industrial revolution. But the reality is that freelance/gig workers don’t have a lot of protections or stability. To ensure that professionals flourish in these capacities, a good first step is for the companies hiring them to first state their value. The argument is a little circular because, surely, a lot of small businesses are operating on thin enough margins that allocating dollars to contract workers can feel like a leap of something more than faith. So, the value has to be mutual.

A collective shift in lingo, though, would be free. Then we can all agree there’s no need for the side hustle. It’s just hustling, period. There’s no gig work. It’s just work. With the result, ideally, better outcomes for all parties.

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