Part of the reason that the sharing economy is working and here to stay is that employment patterns are changing. Much has been made of the relative lack off opportunities for the millenial generation. (Now dating the millenial generation is a post on its own, so I won’t go into it!) But as life expectency continues to rise most employees not yet nearing retirement will have to face the prospect of working longer, regularly retraining and most crucially working flexibly.
First, let’s get defnitions out of the way. The side hustle is a part-time job, typically performed on a short-term contract or freelancing basis or as running a mini-business. This could be running a weekend party cupcake business, writing a blog, offering one’s services on fiverr, offering online consultancy, driving an uber cab. The gig economy is a service economy based on the idea that services are provided by self-employed people, coordinated but not employed by a central company. The classic example is Uber, the controversial example are self-employed package delivery people using their own vans or cars.
This incisive article in Quartz convincingly argues that the reason millenials are so fixated on the ‘side hustle’ is not that they are indulging in earning money from their passion in their free time, but because they need the extra money to pay the bills. This is of course partly because lifestyle expectations have grown and things which were luxuries in the past are now hard necessities for younger workers, whether that’s having the latest iPhone or going on exotic holidays numerous times a year. Paying the rent and bills is now not only the only compulsory expense.
While it can bring in extra income, the gig economy also has a darker side as recently recognised by politicians in the UK. There is very little or any employee protection for side hustlers. While this may be fine for those who use this as an opportunity to capitalise on a hobby, for the large number of workers relying on a mix of gigs to stay afloat, this position can be highly precarious.
Yet let’s not pretend that the side hustle is somehow a completely new phenomenon. A large number of low income earners have had to combine jobs in the past, sometimes a “proper” full-time job with driving a taxi just while you get your dream together. I have known a policewoman (albeit not in the UK) who went out to clean offices on weekend evenings to pay for childcare costs. These workers have always been in a marginalised position. Of course recognising this and trying to find a solution to the issue is a positive thing.
What has changed is the easy availability of mix and match employment through the interconnectedness the internet offers and through apps and websites that can give us short bursts of employment. New York’s casual taxi drivers usually simultaneously monitor a couple ride-sharing apps they could pick up fares for: not just uber but Juno, Via and Lyft as well.
Secondly, it should not come as a surprise that the side hustle is not necessarily exciting, but probably boring. Following one’s passion to earn extra money sounds too good to be true. And it is. Most part-time jobs will be more hustle than passion.
But let’s have a look at positives. There is flexibility – these kind of part-time jobs are not tied to a location like an office job. There are no set times when one clocks on and off, rather employment can frequently be fitted against other obligations and social life. Secondly, they can be an entrance to future employment by providing useful work experience in a different industry. Something we will increasingly need as we won’t be able to work a single career over a very long (50 years or longer) working life span.