Back when I worked at IBM, in the 1980s, my manager brought me into his office when he found out that I had a side business. I had started a company unrelated to IBM that printed a food delivery guide for Chicago. He was concerned that this business would distract me from my full-time commitment at IBM. Back then, it was traditional for employees to sign agreements that stated they would devote their “full time and energy” to their current company.
Today, more business owners accept and even encourage their employees to have business interests outside the traditional work environment. Kimberly Palmer, a senior money editor and Alpha Consumer blogger at US News & World Report, writes that side gigs for employees are a huge trend as people try to spread their financial risk. She started her own micro business on Etsy called Palmer Planners to bring in extra money during the recent recession and wrote about how to manage a side gig in her book, The Economy of You.
Supporting Your Employees
Mindie Kaplan, who works for Microsoft Advertising, has a side gig interviewing local business leaders for an online publication. Microsoft is very supportive of this activity, since they think it will bring positive exposure to her and the company.
Why else should small-business owners support employees' side gigs?
Workplace transparency is a reality. Employees know they can’t hide a business even if they want to. Once they promote their side gig online to find customers, it’s only a Google or Yahoo search away from being exposed to their full-time employer. You don't want employees sneaking around, so accept the side gig and support the employee.
Every person is his or her own brand. Business owners know that every person now retains an individual brand that extends beyond the company. Employees have their own followings outside of their full-time professional jobs. If they're excited, this will spread in the form of goodwill to future customers or referrals.
An enterprising employee is valuable. If employees show this type of initiative outside of work, they will probably show it at their day job. If employees are learning new skills on their own time, they will bring this new perspective to their day job. Also, to keep the best people, you need to encourage outside creativity.
Make the Side Gig Work for You
A side gig can benefit not only the employee but the business owner as well. Of course, there are valid reasons for employers not to want employees to pursue side businesses; however, in today's environment, it's not all that feasible to discourage it. Your best bet for this situation to be a win-win is to show your support and set down some guidelines.
No conflicts. Make sure there are no conflicts between business interests. If you're a design and print shop, your employee shouldn't open their own design business on the side.
Keep and promote an open door policy. Make sure your employees know you support side businesses; encourage openness and show interest in what the employee is doing. Employees will appreciate your support, and it will help prevent them from sneaking around during work hours behind your back.
Be respectful of personal and professional lives. There is now a seamless merging of professional and personal lives. If you expect employees to work during traditional personal time, then you have to realize hobbies and other business interests will enter the office. Respect your employees' personal time, and they'll be more inclined to respect the time they work for you.
How do you encourage side gigs for your employees, and has that helped your company?
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