For many people, the term will be synonymous with entrepreneurs making billions from their bedrooms or bestselling books scribbled in a hot new author’s spare time. Generation side-hustle is upon us, and whilst most millennials eye up mounting debts and soaring house prices a glitzy alternate world beckons.
From Instagrammers making hundreds per post after a YouTube stint launched their career to humble pop-up burger stands landing joints in every city, the success stories seem to suggest that this supposedly attainable dream is just a few clicks away. But what does the so-called side-hustle economy really mean for young people?
A recent study revealed that over a third of 16-34 year olds are operating at least one project alongside their full-time job and these side-hustles can be big business. Efforts that hard-working Brits undertake outside of their usual hours contribute £72 billion to the UK economy and millennial attitudes towards work are cited as a key driver of the trend.
"There is no way back" says Bernd Vogel, Founding Director of the Henley Centre for Leadership, who conducted the research. "Those who have the appetite and confidence to go it alone as an entrepreneur will not let the chance slip. We can expect growth in side-hustling, possibly even doubling, in the next ten years."
When side-hustles take up many additional working hours a week, this may have implications in terms of additional stress, which may influence occupational health.
A quick glance at the seemingly endemic ascent of the side-hustle seems to suggest that we’re all raking it in as soon as we clock off from our day jobs. A cursory Google search of the term pulls up reams of results promising lucrative business ideas and fast money-making schemes that fit around your nine to five. While working two jobs was once seen as a desperate measure, it is now portrayed as an innovative and aspirational lifestyle choice — but the reality looks a little less uplifting.
In 2016, Cision conducted a study of over 132,000 social media posts from independent workers in the US. They found that 37% of discussion was negative in sentiment, with taxes, general worry and insurance being primary concerns. So what exactly is it about side-hustling that is drawing in millennials in their droves?
Although for some a side-hustle grants a chance to follow their true calling without waving goodbye to a regular paycheque (and possibly a cushty benefits package) for others it merely patches over cracks in a creaking economy. "One reason that people are more at ease with a side-hustle than in previous times is the increase in ‘uncertainty’ in the workplace," says Naeema Pasha, Director of Careers at the Henley Business School. "Companies that used to offer steady ‘life-long’ careers are no longer offering the security that previous generations experienced."
Word of a worried workforce will hardly be news for most millennials. Those who entered the labour market during or in the wake of the recession will be familiar with zero hours contracts, faltering pension funds, and fast rising house prices that have characterised the working world for Generation Y. In 1995, a median earner would spend about 3 to 5 times their annual salary on a house. Now that a London property costs around 14.5 times the average salary, free time has become a luxury because it seems essential to monetise every spare second. "The fact is, it costs more to live than it did a generation ago," says Nick Loper, founder of Side Hustle Nation "[The cost of] education and housing have risen faster than income and people are turning to side-hustles to bridge the gap."
Our aspirations take second place to the suddenly luxurious allure of a steady job taken for granted by our predecessors.
Nick’s words reveal a face of side-hustling that is often overlooked. For many, this lifestyle is not an uncompromising way of topping up spending money while striving towards life goals. It’s a parent delivering Uber Eats while their children are in bed, a marketer freelancing out their content writing skills for next to nothing on their commute, or a graduate nervously eyeing up their lingering student loan as they squeeze in weekend shifts at a supermarket around their first office role. Working over 39 hours has been linked to a host of physical and mental health problems from cardiovascular disorders to anxiety and depression as Dr Rita Fontinha, a Lecturer in Strategic Human Resource Management pointed out: "When side-hustles take up many additional working hours a week, this may have implications in terms of additional stress, which may influence occupational health." With hundreds of studies linking working overtime with risk of mortality side-hustlers are quite literally walking the line between their money or their health.
Even the fortunate three quarters of side-hustlers who report taking on a second job as a passion project are often driven by difficult career conditions. With the number of jobs plummeting post-recession, many millennials found themselves settling for a less inspiring career path and pursuing their dream job in their own time — sometimes free of charge.
A troubling 37% of British workers find their main money-maker meaningless and at last count 66% of millennials were dissatisfied with their primary livelihood. Although this figure is significantly higher than in previous generations we are also more reluctant to switch roles for fear of a new position not working out. It’s a mindset ingrained in a generation who entered the world of work in a time where most were grateful to simply be employed. Our aspirations take second place to the allure of a steady job taken for granted by our predecessors.
The glamorisation of the side-hustle economy seemingly brims with possibility. It gives hope to millennials faced with the crushing prospect of a lacklustre career, non-existent savings and the struggles of being financially stable. It seduces a generation who are, by nature, technologically savvy and who value the work-life balance so much that the idea of self-employment dangles in front of them like a working-from-home carrot. It also provides perks for an exploitative economy that piggy-backs off the additional hours side-hustlers invest while undercutting permanent roles and swapping dreams of being your own boss for Deliveroo shifts and
late-night bar jobs.
There’s no quick fix for the conditions that millennials face, but perhaps addressing the broken depiction of side-hustles is a good place to start. It’s time to shift the narrative so that second jobs are seen for what they really are — a symbol of an economy that is failing millions of young people. Instead of champagne-popping twenty-somethings with their own beauty lines let’s make the movement’s poster children the millions of us moonlighting to make ends meet. So many of us are seeking stability in an increasingly shaky world, perhaps the first step onto solid ground is admitting how far we have left to go.
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