Glamourising the idea of a second job is bad news for workers

In our ever busy, demanding and expensive world it’s become a necessity for many of us to increase or maximise our income streams. According to the latest labour market report from the Office for National Statistics, there are now more than 1.1 million people across the UK who have more than one revenue stream.

Whereas in the past people may have taken on small jobs in order to earn pin money, nowadays Instagram is awash with people proclaiming that they’re living a life of luxury fuelled by ‘side hustles’, but as with many things we see on social media, the reality is often far more complicated.

Earning extra money on the side of your main income is something that many of us have done for a variety of reasons; supplementing income when on maternity leave, earning a bit more for holiday spending money, or maybe even to pay for school fees or uniforms. This may have taken lots of forms such as ebaying old clothes, doing car boot sales or taking in ironing.

All of these things have a proven track record of helping people, but aren’t exactly glamourous. However, there’s been an increasing trend to rebrand second jobs into the more instaworthy ‘side hustle’.

Although the term is different, generally speaking, a ‘side hustle’ is still additional work – either another job, or maybe a small business based around your hobby (think Etsy shop), that you take on outside of your main source of income to earn extra money.

While the term itself isn’t new, the use of it, especially by media outlets, as a catch-all phrase for all secondary work is. The BBC has recently been asking people ‘what’s your side hustle?’ And Guardian Labs has a page dedicated to them. Side hustles, it seems, are everywhere.

A side hustle can be a great way to earn some money by doing something that you love. But many of the recommendations for good ways to earn money are not found from these reputable media outlets, but instead from click-bait articles promoting quick fixes over developing a sustainable business.

In many ways it’s hard to distinguish the idea of modern side hustles from the age-old problem of having to juggle a number of jobs to help pay the bills.

Side hustles often claim to offer flexibility and independence in a way that traditional roles do not. But the reality is that many merely offer insecurity, unpredictable pay, and few workers’ rights often for companies with worrying associations to pyramid schemes or poor records for fuelling the gig economy.

According to The Henley Business School most people have second jobs for (as you may expect) financial reasons, with half saying they need the second income.

This is echoed by recent research by the Trades Union Congress and the University of Hertfordshire, which shows that growing numbers of workers are turning to often insecure and badly paid platform work to top up lacklustre wages.

By glamourising and normalising the practise of having to ‘top-up’ our wages, we run the very real risk of disincentivising companies from paying a living wage.

Even when side hustles are passion projects, rather than a financial necessity, there are issues raised. By commodifying your hobbies you are turning your leisure time into a way of making money, thus potentially ruining your enjoyment as added stress is placed on the burden of making it a financially viable business.

Why are you wasting time and money having fun, when you could be making money? Why do something because you enjoy it, when you could financially profit from it instead?

Whether your side hustle is a passion project or purely a monetary scheme it’s likely to impact on your work-life balance. UK employees already put in the longest hours in the EU.

It’s therefore unsurprising that, according to the Henley Business School’s report, 45% of those with side hustles regularly work more than 40 hours each week, and a quarter work more than 50 hours. Almost a third of those doing a side hustle are using up their annual leave to work on it.

This overworking is symptomatic of two problems. Firstly, work simply isn’t paying enough. Real weekly wages are still below where they were before the recession, and the majority of people in poverty live in working households.

Secondly, the line between work and leisure is becoming increasingly blurred. Technology means that many people are feeling like they can’t switch off even when they leave work. And, for some, there’s a constant need to try to be more productive. This is particularly exacerbated when we feel the need to constantly project our busyness, and material rewards, on social media.

The side hustle revolution is additionally worrying as it has a clear focus on young people, with the Henley Business School calling it a “side-hustling revolution” that’s being “driven by the millennial generation and younger”. Young workers have entered the workforce during the longest pay squeeze in over two centuries.

For the first time, a generation of workers are earning less in real terms than the one that came before it did when they were their age. Work is often insecure, with young workers being more likely than any other age group to be on a zero-hours contract or in casual employment.

Housing is insecure too. Millennials are half as likely as their parents were to own a house by the time they’re 30, and the rise of private renting means housing is more insecure and more expensive.

Regardless of the age of the worker, normalising second jobs and relabelling them as ‘side hustles’ normalises and glamourises an economy that’s forcing people into taking on more work, especially unstable jobs and low-paid self-employment, to make ends meet. At a time when in-work poverty is at record highs we need to address the fact that for too many people of all ages, work simply isn’t
paying enough.

None of this is to say that freelance work or extra income streams are a bad idea. There are times when we all may be grateful for the ability to earn extra cash. The problem comes when this is seen as a normal way to live all the time. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.