The younger generations are looking outside their day jobs to make extra money and pursue their passions. Here’s why employers should support that.
Here’s the good news: companies are still aggressively hiring, with the economy adding nearly 300,000 jobs in May 2023. The not-so-good news is that wage growth is beginning to slow. In other words, while the war for talent continues among employers, they’ve reached some limits in terms of how much they’re willing to pay more to recruit or retain people.
At the same time, credit card debt held by Americans continues to rise as inflation, while easing, still tops 4%.
One of the outcomes of this economic convergence is that more and more people, especially those among the younger generations, are exploring side hustles. But, unlike a “gig” job like driving for Uber, the side hustles young people are more interested in pursuing involve doing something they are truly passionate about.
“The typical ‘9–5’ job is not cutting it,” says Jim Love, Director Client Solutions at TAPFIN, which is owned by ManpowerGroup. “Young people need an opportunity to explore their passions in a real way. We see this trend only continuing as side hustles prove worthy of their time in a multitude of ways.”
I connected with Love to conduct an email interview where we discussed why young people are increasingly pursuing passion projects as side hustles—and why even their full-time employer should see this as a good thing.
Escaping by pursuing passion
When I asked Love about what distinguishes a side hustle from gig work, he explained it as follows:
“Depending on the context, these can be similar to each other,” he says. “If the gig work is enabling a passion, then it is most certainly a side hustle. However, we are oftentimes seeing gig work as a ‘necessary’ tool for cash; side hustles are passions that aren’t always necessarily monetized. They may take time to learn and grow. Gig work always comes with a price tag.”
While some members of the younger generations turn to side hustles to earn extra cash, Love, who is a member of Gen Z, thinks it’s more about finding deeper meaning in how they invest their time.
“This is a generation that is not afraid to use their voice and pursue every opportunity to do work different than their daily, potentially routine tasks,” says Love. “As a fellow side hustler, I find great value in being able to ‘escape’ into a passion at a moment’s notice. I also interview side hustlers on a weekly podcast and find this to be the case. Passions matter and young people are eager to seek theirs out. And that’s a positive thing!”
Why side hustles matter now
Love says that not only are young people not afraid to pursue passions, they also aren’t afraid to fail.
“We saw the rise during Covid when there was more free time to practice those passions,” he says. “That enabled many people to consider those ‘backburner’ passions that have always been there but were never a priority. At this time, economic conditions certainly play a factor in monetizing these passions. It has only made them more important as young people consider long-term strategies for their passions.”
But thinking long-term is somewhat relative here. According to Love, the time horizon for members of Gen Z often doesn’t extend out as far as retirement, which still feels too out of reach to them. He says that members of the younger generations are focused on the present and they want to find ways to refuel their passions in the ‘now.’
“If side hustles become a critical part of future plans, that is icing on the cake,” he says. “Don’t expect most young people to be connecting those two together yet. Ask them in 21+ years!”
I found it interesting that when I asked Love about whether younger people today think differently about side hustles than their counterparts from older generations (like me), he doesn’t think there is a big gap in our mindsets.
“All humans have passions regardless of age,” he says. “The major difference now is the absence of fear and relative surplus of time to pursue those passions.”
Love points out the fact that many young people these days are generally starting families later in life than older generations. This makes the potential financial setbacks of starting a side hustle much less consequential compared to someone who needs to play it financially safer.
“Young people are hungry and eager to pursue their passions,” he says. “The priorities are flexibility in life and work; exploring side passions gives a great way for both of those paths.”
Bringing passion to work
While it might seem counterintuitive at first, one area that Love says should drive more conversation is encouraging more employers to support the side hustles of their employees. He points to himself, where he says that ManpowerGroup has supported his side hustle. This support, Love believes, has made him more successful in his career with the organization.
“Let young people pursue what they want on their own time,” says Love. “It’ll make them appreciate your leadership and stop them from burnout, exhaustion, etc. They need room to be autonomous in their passions and employers play a significant role in that development.”
That’s a sentiment I can get behind. I know that several of the younger members of my staff pursue side hustles—and I’m proud of them. As much as we’re all invested in the organization’s mission, it’s not all there is to life. I hope they always feel supported in whatever side hustles and passions they want to pursue.
Unlike how organizations have been run in the past, where employees have been expected to dedicate themselves wholly to their employer, the dynamic is different today. Employees are essentially free agents. It’s up to you as an employer to create the incentives for young people to want to work with you. And if you can support them in pursuing something they are passionate about, you might even find that they bring more energy to the work they do for you as well.
How’s that for a true win-win scenario?
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