Google famously introduced ‘20 per cent time’ to encourage employees to spend their time on side projects and creative endeavours. But how does ‘side hustle’ affect employee happiness?
Anecdotally, many people report that having a side project that you’re working on can make you happier, healthier and more productive. But there’s research to back this up too: a 2014 study by San Francisco State psychology professor Kevin Eschelman measured the effect of creative hobbies on more than 400 workers and found that having a creative outlet made workers more likely to be helpful, collaborative and creative in work.
Having a creative hobby was also found to help workers relax outside of work. “The results indicate that organisations may benefit from encouraging employees to consider creative activities in their efforts to recover from work,” Eschelman explained.
“Creative activities are likely to provide valuable experiences of mastery and control, but may also provide employees experiences of discovery that uniquely influence performance-related outcomes.”
Journalist and author Phyllis Korkki even goes as far as to suggest that starting a side project could be the solution to being unhappy at work.
"Taking on a side hustle that is personally meaningful to you is a way to expand the way you think about yourself and the world around you," she says. "It’s a way to say: I’m not only an accountant; I’m also a cartoonist. I’m not just a software engineer; I also make furniture. I don’t just write jingles for commercials; I’m also the lead singer of a heavy metal band. These kinds of projects can inject a dose of creativity into the way you approach your day job - and just plain make you happier and more fun to be around.
"A side pursuit can also make you more resilient. People who stake all their identity on their day jobs can be devastated, not just financially but psychologically, if they are suddenly fired or laid off. If your identity isn’t defined primarily by your nine to five, you’ll have a healthier outlook on life."
Side hustle success
As well as bringing more happiness to your current job, side projects can also become more than just something that you do in your spare time. Take some inspiration from these businesses:
1. Yankee Candles
While at college, founder Michael J Kittredge decided to make candles at his parents’ house as a side business to his studies. When his parents announced that they couldn’t handle the boxes of candes everywhere, Kittredge finally decided to expand. In 1998, he sold the company for more than $500 million.
Perhaps one of the most famous – and widely used – innovations that started life as someone’s side project, Gmail is a great example of Google’s 20 per cent time in action. The policy allowed workers to spend 20 per cent of their time on something other than their normal day to day job, and as a result, engineers were freed up to incubate Gmail and created a product that truly solved problems by the time it was released.
Craigslist launched originally as an email list that founder Craig Newmark started so he and his friends could update each other on what was happening in their city. The email list quickly grew and Newmark decided to make a change, which saw the list move from the inbox to a website. However, despite the website’s success, Craig continued to work his day job for three more years before he gave it up to pursue Craigslist full time.