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Don’t Shut Down the Side Hustle: How Employers Can Use That Ambition to Their Benefit

Instead of feeling threatened by an employee’s side hustle, nurture that independent, business-minded talent to build productivity and mutual trust. Or risk losing that talent altogether.

Photo courtesy of Polina Tankilevitch via Pexels

Hiring is exciting for everyone involved—the managers, the recruiters and the talent. With a new employee comes new possibilities. But it takes a significant investment of time, energy and resources to find the right fit. As a result, companies are easily tempted to want total ownership of this new employee’s productivity. But is that really fair? 

Both parties want growth. Organizations look to recruit and retain talent that will bring in valuable experience and skills to propel the company forward. Employees are eager to utilize their education, experience and skills while looking to gain new experiences that will develop them as professionals. Sometimes this growth isn’t limited to their 9-to-5, and employees might want to explore and build a side hustle, which is a huge turn-off to traditional corporate culture. 

How can employers retain these individuals while simultaneously maximizing the engagement of their most ambitious employees? Simple: Ditch the old way of thinking about entrepreneurship. Instead of shutting down an employee’s side hustle ambition, nurture independent, business-minded talent to build productivity and mutual trust. Or risk losing that talent altogether. 

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The End of the Honeymoon Phase

When they come down from riding the “new job” high, some employees realize their job might not be as perfect as they thought. The promise of a role that encouraged creativity or opportunity for growth created excitement during the hiring process. These rose-colored glasses quickly come off when an employer slides an intellectual property (IP) agreement across the conference room table.

Often used in a traditional business setting, this agreement prevents an employee from competing in the same space as the employer. Sometimes an IP reaches farther and claims any new ideas or inventions by the employee during their time of employment will be owned by the company. While this is a standard procedure for employers, many employees fail to negotiate their own interests with these clauses. 

In some cases, an employee’s passion project is not just a creative outlet but an important source of income. When an employer limits that, it can create a less-than-symbiotic relationship and lead to skepticism. Employees either begrudgingly accept the terms and conditions and harbor feelings of resentment that lead to a drop in productivity and morale or they seek another place to earn a living entirely, sometimes with the company’s competitor.

Ben Cerezo, a project strategist at Theorem, is also a cofounder of tech startup Neuflect, which was created to revolutionize health and physical fitness with a video platform for trainers to work more easily with clients. He said he was honest about his goals with his company. 

“I probably wouldn’t work someplace that discouraged me from working on my own entrepreneurial endeavors since that would impede [upon] my free agency,” Cerezo said, adding that a far-reaching IP would mean “lost opportunity cost of pursuing [his] dreams.” 

Many employers fear an employee’s side hustle, viewing it as competition for their time and attention. What they fail to realize is that welcoming innovation allows for an opportunity to benefit from their creative employees.

These individuals are more likely to use the tools cultivated from their experiences to benefit their employer and clients. Employees whose ambitions are far greater than what is offered in their workplace are better at problem-solving and are not afraid to fail because (as a result of their experience) they see it as an opportunity for learning and growth. They’re also less likely to need or want micromanagement to achieve their goals, which means greater productivity for the company as a whole.

Employers who scrap blanket policies in favor of more custom agreements that make sense for the situation is a smart move that can help companies create competitive offers and a compelling work environment.

The Best Employees Are Happy Employees

Perhaps the most obvious reason an entrepreneur makes an excellent employee is because they’re not looking for a better gig somewhere else. Typically, they’re already fulfilled in their lives because they have a side business or project that brings them satisfaction. When people learn, grow and feel empowered, they are more self-confident. The increased dopamine levels in the brain create a positive cascade of emotional benefits for them and tangible benefits for their employer.

There is widespread fear among employers that, if given the chance, entrepreneur-minded employees will steal the company’s “secret sauce” and use it to create their own successful business. In actuality, this is fairly rare because it takes more than a single idea to replicate a company’s success. More commonly, employees feel smothered because they are longing to create something of their own, so they tend to leave the company altogether. 

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Instead, fostering an environment in which creative employees can thrive is more beneficial. When employers realize people are the secret to success, not intellectual property, they create a workplace where employees working at their optimal creativity levels will generate better work. This also results in elevated teamwork that supports more elegant solution building.

For many, working somewhere is more than just collecting a paycheck; it’s the opportunity to offer their talents and make a difference.

Need to Solve a Problem? There’s an Entrepreneur for That.

Smart employers understand that entrepreneurs can bring diversity of thought, unique problem-solving skills and an understanding of the challenges to maintaining a healthy and profitable business. These folks are born thought pioneers, and they thrive in positive, growth-mindset environments.

Entrepreneurs are always “on,” constantly generating new ideas and ready to pivot quickly. They are capable of thinking outside the box and are always one step ahead with a big picture in mind. Lucia Bustamante, product designer at Theorem and founder of Mujeres IT, an organization that supports women in tech, says that entrepreneurs can contribute a multitude of ideas since they have worked through being creative with their own projects. 

“Entrepreneurs often become leaders,” she said. “They are self-starters who use their initiative, are more likely to achieve success, and they are ambitious, which makes them work harder.”

Entrepreneurs Are Multitaskers

Entrepreneurs have a unique ability to context-switch instantly and easily. Many entrepreneurial employees excel at being multitaskers and can be highly productive. 

When busy, entrepreneur-minded individuals are better at prioritizing key tasks and getting them done. That’s a major win for any company. 

When a manager needs an employee to assist with a task that might go outside their normal role, an entrepreneur is perfectly poised to step in and step up. The diverse experience and enthusiasm entrepreneurs have helps them switch their vantage points more easily. In their entrepreneurial endeavors, they have gained immense knowledge and leadership skills that can transcend to any position. 

Those who are always looking to improve are positioned to provide the best for their clients.

How to Attract and Retain Entrepreneurs

It starts and ends with trust.

When given some freedom to explore a side hustle, companies will find an entrepreneurial employee is loyal and can be counted on to support clients with greater attention to detail. Supporting an entrepreneur in their own endeavors fosters a positive relationship and the trust needed for them to want to contribute their best work. It’s no secret that the best results come from employees who want to be there, not the ones who have to be. 

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For Bustamante, she seeks workplaces that see the worth of her talents. On her must-have list: a strong company culture of innovation. She says it goes beyond an employer sharing words of motivation, commending a job well done. More importantly, she says, a company that allows employees to keep their passions as an individual and to grow as a professional in the business is a healthy place to work. Plus, flexibility to help maintain those outside-of-work passions is key. 

Work-life balance isn’t just a hot topic, it’s an important aspect of a healthy work environment. When employees enjoy a healthy work-life balance, workday flexibility and agency, they are happier, more productive and produce higher quality work. For companies, that’s an invaluable return on investment. And it goes beyond supporting the entrepreneurial employees. Providing every employee with support, care and respect allows for an awesome company culture and a winning team.

Mikaela Berman is a marketing executive with over 10 years of experience and a demonstrated history of working in technology, consumer products, health care and professional services. She is currently in charge of all things marketing and demand generation at Theorem. Follow her on LinkedIn and learn more about Theorem at https://www.theorem.co/. 

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