Check out Alex Collinson’s interesting short piece on the “side hustle” in Prospect. Some highlights:
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?; Guardian Labs has a page dedicated to them. The phrase was barely Googled just a few years ago, but has grown increasingly popular since 2017.
For some, a side hustle is a chance to earn some cash from doing what they love. But many of the recommendations you find in articles with names like “99 side hustle business ideas you can start today!” are insecure jobs. These aren’t passion projects, but a way to make some desperately needed money because your current job isn’t paying enough to make ends meet.
Apart from a minor rebrand and some added aspirational rhetoric, it’s hard to distinguish side hustles from a much less-recent trend: having to juggle a number of jobs to help pay the bills. “Side hustles” might claim to offer flexibility, but in reality, many offer insecurity, unpredictable pay, and few workers’ rights.
This overworking, to the extent of using up your annual leave to work more, 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.
The journalist Oliver Burkeman has called the “quest for increased personal productivity … a dominant motif of our age.” 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?
This ‘side hustle’ rebrand has a risk of normalising these issues rather than challenging them. It also 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.”
These problems have clear solutions. We need reliable jobs that pay enough to keep up with the cost of living and leave people with enough time to pursue their hobbies without being pressured into commodifying them. A good start would be raising the national minimum wage to £10 per hour, and ending pay discrimination that means younger workers don’t get the same minimum wage as everyone else. Banning zero-hours contracts and false self-employment would also make work more reliable for many. Working people also need new rights to bargain through unions for fair pay and conditions. This’ll help to ensure that workers are paid fairly, and that people have more control over their time.