Of its meanings, different ones for “hustling” have been most prominent at different times. First it denoted moving quickly and effectively. In the 1970s, it meant mostly winning bets by concealing skill. Soon thereafter, helped by the title of a Gail Sheehy book, it referred to prostitution. Since then, it has gone back somewhat to its original meaning, but referring to employment in various ways. Here are three, and how they pertain to today’s work environments.
On December 30th in the Motley Fool’s Ascent, Maurie Backman told us and asked us “82% of People With a Side Hustle Got One Due to Inflation. Should You Keep Yours if Inflation Cools Off?” I doubt it was anything like 82% – employed people have been doing other things for money long before they called it “moonlighting,” and most will continue without regard to clearly temporary financial pinches. As Robert Townsend told us in 1970’s classic Up the Organization, “like sleeping around, it scatters energy… If there’s a lot of it going on, it may be a sign that the system has defeated the people again. If they can’t release their spare energies toward your goals, they’ll moonlight for somebody who doesn’t have job descriptions and policy manuals.” Still pertinent, but in different ways – per Backman, “having an extra source of income can help you pad your savings and still have money coming in if you get laid off in a recession” – and even though a recession seems remote, such propositions can be valuable, emotionally as well as financially.
“Should you hide your side hustle from your employer? Here’s what to consider” (Gili Malinsky, cnbc.com, December 20th) addressed another ancient problem. The author cited a “side hustle expert,” who recommended researching official company policies, checking with an “employment lawyer,” and disclosing it if all is clear. I had such a venture, completely unrelated to my work responsibilities, which consumed 20 to 25 hours a week, during most of my corporate career, was careful to, per Malinsky, “not to use company equipment or company time” for it, and never had to discuss it. It worked – and so did I, well enough to get top performance reviews.
Selective non-hustling was the subject of “Americans take a break from the weekend on ‘bare minimum Mondays’” (Kristen Altus, Fox Business, March 6th). Unlike moonlighting, this “latest workplace trend receiving more and more support from the U.S. labor force” does not meet with my approval. How hard to work is a personal employee decision, but cordoning off times in advance when you will not, would fully justify in this case companies giving 10% pay cuts (half pay for Mondays). People can pace themselves during the week, but feeling “overworked and underpaid” is not reason by itself, and may result in no job at all. This style means a change in working practices and expectations, and is more than anything else a human resources problem.
How about doing that every day? Jing Pan, writing in MoneyWise, saw that “US productivity is stalling out and employees are less willing to ‘engage in hustle culture,’ as 1 in 5 Americans admit to doing the ‘bare minimum’ at work” (January 27th). The author said that “there’s no doubt employees across the country have been pulling back at work.” Again a worker choice, at least partially from companies unwilling to assess qualitative and quantitative employee differences, and another indicator of structural issues.
And now, the ultimate hustle, about which Alison Green asked, in Slate on February 20th, “What’s Really So Wrong About Secretly Working Two Full-Time Jobs at Once?” Now called being “overemployed,” this is getting more and more common, made possible by remote work and aided by excessive nonjudgmentalism and temporally undemanding responsibilities. Here we must make ethical choices, as, barring an explicit policy against it, the “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy above is perfectly moral, but lying about it is not. Per this piece, those overemployed vary in their approaches and in some ways of negotiating conflicts between the positions, ranging from being upfront to saying anything they think they can get away with. Two salient comments from Green are “Managers have an instinctive horror at the thought of someone secretly working a second job during their work hours for the first, but if they can’t point to any problems resulting from it… maybe it’s time to rethink that,” and “employers should ask themselves what would drive someone to lie about having multiple jobs… for years now, employers have been understaffing and expecting employees to do the work of multiple roles for no increase in pay. Perhaps its inevitable that some of them have decided that if they’re going to be overworked, they’re going to benefit from it.”
So, what will “hustling” mean in 2035? If it pertains to jobs and the economy, expect me, if I’m still here, to cover it.