Ideas for a brighter future for all

The rise of the side hustle

In March this year, a new national report released by ING in Australia revealed nearly half (48%) of the Australians surveyed either have or are planning to start a side-hustle. Some typical side hustles include buying and reselling goods online, driving for ride share and food delivery platforms like Uber and DoorDash, dog-sitting, tutoring and freelance writing.

Side hustles, or income-generating activities undertaken alongside main jobs, are increasingly common as the gig economy provides opportunities for employees to perform supplementary work or satisfy a passion, and earn additional income at the same time.

Besides side hustles, a closely-related term is “moonlighting”, which is the practice of having a second job, usually secretly and at night, in addition to one’s regular employment. “Moonlighting” reportedly first appeared in the 1950s, when it was used to describe night-time criminal activity in Ireland.

The use of “side hustle” also emerged at about the same time, and the term has essentially the same meaning as “moonlighting” less the emphasis on working at night and with the added emphasis of “hustle”, which comes from the Dutch word “husselen” meaning “to shake or toss”.

The rapid rise of the use of the term “side hustle” and the prevalence of side hustles coincides with the development of various technological tools and platforms and increased utilisation of flexible working arrangements.

These days, technological platforms like Airbnb, eBay, Airtasker, Uber and DoorDash are free to use and make it much easier for people to provide their services and goods to their customers in a timely manner.

Similarly, flexible working arrangements beyond the traditional 9am to 5pm office-based working has created more opportunities for employees to engage in their side hustles. For example, an employee may request for compressed workweek (i.e., working four days instead of five) to engage in their side hustle on Fridays. Some employees may also choose to work remotely so that they can manage their Airbnb properties concurrently.  

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Last year, the emergence of the pandemic and associated restrictions resulted in soaring unemployment across the world. On the bright side, many informal polls also showed a boom in side hustles during the same period.

New data from UK-based freelancer platform PeoplePerHour highlighted a significant rise in the number of UK-based employees who were operating their business on the side. In particular, the platform saw its largest increase in registrations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 250,000 people applied to use the platform in 2020, a sharp increase from 136,000 in 2019.

In another September 2020 study conducted by Upwork, an American freelance job platform, two million more Americans had started freelancing in the preceding 12 months, due to the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic and closure of businesses. For some of these workers, the extra income was crucial in helping them to cover their basic livelihood and keep up with the cost of living.

Side Hustle
Balancing side hustles with full-time work

Despite the prevalence of side hustles these days, they are still not well-received by employers, who consider them a distraction from full-time work performance. In fact, some organisations continue to prohibit side-hustles in their employment contracts.

There’s no denying that side hustles require a lot of time, energy and effort.

In a series of studies involving over 1,000 employees, University of Iowa Professor Jennifer Nahrgang and colleagues found that participants worked on their side-hustles for an average of 13 hours per week spread across 4 days. In another study by Henley Business School in the University of Reading, UK-based employees with side-hustles were found to be working almost 13 hours more than the average UK employee.

With the extra hours going into side hustles, one might expect employees with side hustles to report higher levels of stress and even burnout. Interestingly, multiple studies have shown that side hustles have helped to make employees’ lives more interesting and fulfilling.

For example, the same study by Henley Business School showed that the sense of fulfilment from engaging in side hustles translated into happiness in both their main and side hustle workplaces. Professor Nahrgang and colleagues also found that side hustles empowered individuals to be in charge of their own work, which led them to become emotionally and cognitively invested in their side hustles, and also transmit the positive emotions associated with this experience to their main jobs, which subsequently improved their job performance.

Many employers are naturally concerned about the impacts of side hustles on their employees’ full-time work. Forty-five per cent of the businesses surveyed in the Henley Business School study felt that side hustles led to overworked employees, which may also lead to stress and absenteeism. Nevertheless, they also believed that allowing side hustles attracts and retains the best talents, helps to improve employee morale, and makes them happier and more productive.

Side hustles and work-life balance

So, is work-life balance an elusive unicorn for employees with full-time work and a side hustle?

As most work-life scholars would recommend, striking a fine balance between full-time work, side hustle, and rest and recovery is key.

Alongside engaging in both full-time work and the side gig, it is equally important to prioritise rest and recovery, such as setting aside buffer time (even as short as 10 minutes) when transiting between full-time jobs and side-hustles. Researchers warn employees against engaging in side hustles immediately after completing their main jobs, as this is a recipe for burnout.

And while it is tempting for employees to use their work breaks to check and send emails or run errands for their side hustles, employees are also encouraged to have breaks where they completely detach from both their full-time jobs and side hustles. Such quality breaks help employees to recover from their intense work schedules and reduce the likelihood of them burning out, as one of my research studies has shown.

Side hustles will become even more prevalent as employees embark on hybrid working in a post-COVID world. Having quality rest and recovery would be crucial to ensuring employees do not burn out when navigating their full-time jobs and side hustles.


Dr Carys ChanDr. Carys Chan is a work–life researcher at Griffith University’s Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing. She conducts research on the work–life interface, flexible/remote working, self-efficacy, work-related stress and burnout, and leader–subordinate interactions.

She is also a regular employment relations and work–life contributor to media outlets such as BBC Worklife, ABC Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, The Conversation, Channel NewsAsia, and HR Daily.


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