Opinion: Employee side hustles shouldn’t harm full-time employers – Springfield Business Journal

I wouldn’t call myself a fanatical user of Uber or Lyft, but as a business traveler, I recognize the value of these services. I climb inside a stranger’s car when the need arises to get to the airport or to a restaurant that’s too far of a walk from my hotel. I often talk with the drivers to learn about their perceptions of the shared rider service industry in their cities, in particular.

On a recent trip, I asked my driver if he could make a decent living in his city driving for either or both companies, and he said that it was more about supplementing his income when he wasn’t working at his regular job. It seems he traveled for his company and they would send him to various large cities for a week at a time. He said he drove for both services in those cities during his off hours. I asked him how this was possible. He said in the evening hours, he would drive for Uber or Lyft using his rental car. He said he would add the rental car to his existing car insurance policy and then cancel it when he got back home.

Thinking about his acumen in successfully working the system, I couldn’t help but marvel at his genius.

If we define the concept of the side hustle as those freelance, part-time or occasional gigs employees do in their off hours to generate extra income, there are countless ways. Many of these side gigs have a creative flair: writing or copyediting, graphic design, software coding or website design. Some have a human touch: dog walking, babysitting or providing elder care. Some are more traditional: real estate sales, house flipping or home remodeling; being a notary; car detailing; party catering; or being a personal fitness trainer.

The entrepreneur in me loves the idea that people are getting out into the gig economy and planting their flags in the turf. Graduating college students, who paid for expensive degrees that don’t necessarily guarantee them high-paying jobs, have taken to the side hustle by the many thousands. According to a June 2019 survey of 2,500 employees by Bankrate.com, 43% of full-time workers have and 51% of part-time employees have side hustles. People do what they have to do to take care of themselves, their bills and their families.

While side hustles benefit both the workers who do them and the receivers of their goods, services or labors, the cynic in me thinks about how some employees exploit their employers to benefit their side work.

Some of my human resources-related work deals with investigating or coaching employees who are in jeopardy of being fired once their employer discovers they have been putting way more energy and attention into their side work. This includes double dipping – working their side job while being paid for their full-time work; using massive amounts of their employers’ copiers, paper, toner and printer ink; “borrowing” other office supplies; taking company vehicles on side hustle trips; using long distance phone services that get billed to the company; using company Amazon or office supplies accounts to get substantial discounts; and even setting up websites on company servers.

When confronted with examples of their theft of time, goods or internet bandwidth, these employees rationalized their behaviors as not that big of a deal; feigned ignorance as to the illegal or unethical nature of their actions; accused their employers of not treating them well or not paying them enough; or somehow switched the blame to suggest they were entitled to steal, double dip or use company assets to further their side gigs.

All this means, as an employer, you need to work with your company HR and legal advisers to craft policies – with consequences to include discipline, restitution, termination or, in worst cases, prosecution. You need to develop an ethical standard about this issue.

Create policies that ask your employees to notify you if they have outside employment. This is not to stifle their freedom but simply to make certain they are not working with one of your competitors, participating in an illegal business or contributing to one that conflicts with yours.

Remind all employees they cannot reveal your trade secrets, financial information or other proprietary data to their other employers or side customers. Create policies that specifically forbid the use of your company’s products, equipment, vehicles, office supplies, telephone lines, internet access or websites to further an employee’s outside employment.

While your culture should model creativity and an entrepreneurial mindset among your employees, it shouldn’t come at your expense.

Steve Albrecht is a Springfield-based trainer, human resources consultant and employee coach. He can be reached at drsteve@drstevealbrecht.com.

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