Say hello to the side hustle.
Not to be confused with “a second job”, the side hustle is more than just a way to make some extra cash. It’s also a way for people to pursue a passion, stretch creative muscles or build new skills. Thanks to platforms like Freelancer, TaskRabbit, Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, the gig economy is here and thriving.
Over 44 million Americans have some form of income to supplement their day-to-day earnings. Twenty-eight percent of people with side hustles are Millennials and for good reason. Millennials entered the workforce burdened by crushing student loan debt during a period of slow economic recovery and full-time employment was hard to come by. Another reason, perhaps even a stronger one, is that the modern American workplace was not meeting their expectations as a flexible, collaborative, purposeful environment in which Millennials could see the direct impact of their work, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.
This is catching the attention of older generations who have been in the workplace longer and who might feel like a cog in a corporate machine. With their heightened expertise and experience, GenX and even Baby Boomers are redirecting their well-honed skills towards enterprises that they themselves can control.
Certainly, the Millennial-as-entrepreneur narrative is a powerful one. The Zuckerbergs, Spiegels and Cheskys of the world make it seem like every 20-something whiz kid is building a global empire. The truth is that the number of people under 30 who own a business has fallen by 65 percent since the 1980s and is now at a 25 year low. According to the Kauffman Foundation, a think tank focused on education and entrepreneurship, the average age for a successful startup-founder is about 40 years old, and the 55-65 age group shows the largest increase in entrepreneurial activity in the last 20 years.
Why the shift? Increased entrepreneurism and the rise of companies built on the gig economy offer something that may be more important than money and that nearly all generations of workers seek: autonomy.
Whether it’s control over schedule, project prioritization or simply how the work gets done, higher levels of autonomy tend to result in improved job satisfaction. When employees have greater responsibility for their work, it leads to increases in the quality of work, motivation and happiness, along with decreases in employee turnover.
Uber’s recent driver recruitment campaign capitalizes on that desire to have more control over our time and our lives. In the ‘Side Hustle: Earning’ spot, the driver moves effortlessly from her day job (working) to driving for Uber (earning) to a variety of leisure activities (chilling). The repetition of “work-earn-chill” shows a life lived on the driver’s own terms.
That’s a concept that transcends generations, and the growing number of entrepreneurs and those participating in the gig economy bear it out. Thirty percent of American workers were self-employed in 2014. In 2016, 34 percent of the American workforce were freelancers, and that number is projected to be 43 percent in 2020.
In my day job, I have worked with many freelancers and entrepreneurs, many of whom transitioned to their current roles from established corporate enterprises. They’ve been candid about the fact that the workload is much heavier—not only do they provide their specialized skills to the marketplace, but they also must spend time (and money) marketing, booking business, record-keeping and doing other work that takes them out of their area of expertise. But they’ve also shared that the freedom to work when they want, where they want and with whom is worth the extra time and effort.
That’s how important autonomy is to people, and that’s a lesson that Corporate America can learn in order to better attract and retain great people. Most organizations cannot offer complete autonomy to its employees, but even control over work schedule and location, or creating an environment that supports innovative ideas at all levels of the organizations—these are things that start to get at the heart of what’s missing for many workers these days, and why they’ll work harder and longer to find it.
Readers: do you have a side hustle, or have you thought about starting one? Share your thoughts in the comments below.