According to the annual report, Freelancing in America 2016, from Upwork and the Freelancers Union, 13.5 million people took gigs outside of their primary full-time job responsibilities last year.
In other words, 25% of traditionally employed full-time U.S. workers were moonlighting as independent contractors in 2016.
Overall, freelancers contributed an estimated $1 trillion in earnings to our economy. That said, it doesn’t appear as though freelancing, or what many refer to as the “Gig Economy,” is going away any time soon.
Some employers see such moonlighting as a potential problem.
Employers typically want to protect and retain top talent from the threat of:
- Competitor recruitment
- Employee disengagement
- The Gig Economy luring good workers away who have entrepreneurial aspirations and prefer more autonomous work schedules
That last bullet point may be true for some, but the majority of full-time workers who do moonlight see it differently – they’re not likely to leave their full-time work.
In fact, according to CareerBuilder, more than seven in 10 employees (71%) who have a side job say they don’t want to turn it into their day job.
Should side gigs be encouraged?
There are mutual benefits to both the employee and their employer, should employers decide to encourage moonlighting.
Of course it takes trust, responsibility and discipline for both moonlighting employees and their full-time employer to win.
First, as an employer you have little control over how an employee spends their own time outside of work hours. So it’s likely not worth getting too worked up over.
Second, there needs to be trust. As an employer, if you’re encouraging employees to expand their horizons by embracing hobbies, taking a class and/or moonlighting you’re sending a message to your workers that you value them and their interests, and that you want them to fully realize who they are – inside and outside of the workplace. It’s an aspect of your company culture that many employees will find attractive, and it can help to foster loyalty among your workers.
Now, part of that trust also means that employers are trusting their employees to not take on contract work with direct competitors and to avoid other conflicts of interest. This part of the equation may even be outlined already in your employee handbook or code of conduct documentation. If so, simply make sure you and your employees know and understand it.
Employees should know that their full-time gig needs to remain their number one work priority. As an employee, knowing you will do what is needed to maintain your highest level of quality work will help ease your employer’s concerns – positive action grows trust in spades.
Next, as an employer you get the benefit of your employees’ skills being advanced and sharpened due to their gigs outside of their full-time work.
For example, a full-time corporate marketer who does freelance work for small entrepreneurial clients on the side learns many skills in their full-time work that can be skinnied down to help their freelance clients.
Likewise, because their freelance clients are small, often the work they’re doing for those clients requires creative innovation to generate results. Those kinds of learning experiences further hone the employee’s skills and allow them to bring some of those successful small business strategies/tactics from their freelancing gigs back to their full-time work providing useful out-of-the-box solutions.
Why the Gig Economy is being embraced
It’s also important for employers to understand some of the reasons why their employees embrace the Gig Economy.
- The individual has a passion for, and enjoys, the gig work
- To embrace one’s entrepreneurial spirit without the risk of being entirely self-employed.
- To engage in work that may be totally different than their full-time work. Sometimes having an outlet with different experiences helps to stay enthralled and engaged during their 9-to-5.
- Out of necessity – they need more income than their current full-time work provides.
- To fund various aspects of their personal life, such as vacations, holiday gifts or home renovation projects.
More than anything, employees that successfully engage in side gigs without faltering in their full-time work proves they are ambitious and willing to take action to achieve results. Encouraging that ambition can create value for all.
Having an outside perspective on how to solve various business challenges is imperative for today’s competitive organization. Having employees with side gigs can help contribute to that advantage.
When employees don’t have to worry about whether or not their boss knows about their side gig, they will feel supported and want to give their best to their full-time employer.