Are side hustles a win-win for both employers and employees?

Should agencies be supporting their employees' side hustles? We spoke to both agency leaders and their staff across adland in APAC to find out.

L to R: Nina Kong, strategy director at Media.Monks China founded a custom suit design label; managing director Roger Bikker runs a tea beverage brand; Tom McMullan, creative director at Digitas ANZ produces a horror movie exposure therapy podcast.

"I am a group account director and I 'hustle' as a DJ on the side," says Jodi Chik, group account director, DDB Group Hong Kong. "DJ-ing (American House, Acid, Electro and Techno) is my passion and has almost accidentally become something I can earn from as well." 

Chik loves that her agency, DDB Hong Kong, is so supportive of her side hustle – so much so, that with frequent office parties, they've even become a regular 'client'.  

"I personally think that our industry, more than most, would understand the need for people to pursue other creative passions," says Chik. "And I think it is good for the agency too. Being able to DJ makes me happier and operating in this other world gives me interesting and new perspectives, and I think that only helps me in my day job." 

Chik is not alone in pursuing a side hustle in addition to her full-time job. Globally, and across Asia, side hustles have become commonplace. According to a 2017 survey, 54% of Singaporeans have a side hustle, and earlier this year Japan's government health ministry even recommended that companies across Japan allow employees to have a ‘side hustle’. 

Yosuke Nakamura, head of HR at TBWA\Hakuhodo in Japan, welcomes the government's policy on side jobs. "We believe this forward-looking move – allowing employees to have a side job and providing a safe environment for them to challenge themselves for personal growth, will continue to add value to employees, the agency, and ultimately to society," says Nakamura.  

TBWA isn't the only agency that celebrates side hustles. Media.Monks even has a name for their side-hustlers called 'Punk.Monks', and every week they celebrate them by selecting one monk to share his or her side hustle with all 9000+ monks globally via Slack. 

"It’s an amazing way to get to know people beyond their job title, and to celebrate their creative endeavours and passions," says Rogier Bikker, managing director of Media.Monks China. "We might be a digital-first agency, but we’re not machines!" 

And Bikker confesses that in addition to being managing director of Media.Monks China, he also has a side hustle. "On the weekends and together with friends I’m running Highlite, a sparkling zero-calorie premium tea brand. So when not running the agency, I’m brewing tea. Obviously the Media.Monks fridge is stocked with our latest flavours!" 

Fired for working two jobs

While side hustles are becoming more frequently accepted and even supported by employers, not everybody is onboard with them, especially when lines become blurred, loyalties are tested, and conflicts of interest arise. 

Last month, Wipro, an Indian multinational IT company, fired 300 of its employees after finding out that they were working with one of its competitors at the same time. Wipro's Chairman Rishad Premji said: "There is no space for someone to work for Wipro and competitor XYZ and they would feel exactly the same way if they were to discover the same situation." 

Ajit Narayan, CMO of brand advocacy platform, Socxo, believes employees should switch to contract work if they want to work more than one job.  

"Side hustles are not okay if you are a full-time employee," says Narayan. "If money or exposure or learning is what one seeks, one should join a company as a contract worker not a full time employee. The buck stops there. Working with more than one company at the same time is unethical. Unless the employment contract allows for the same. Else it is a jungle, and anyone can do anything." 

However, barring any conflict of interest with the agency or clients, Chris Gurney, group creative director, Virtue APAC, believes that supporting side hustles is a win on all fronts for both agency and employees.  

"Perhaps we should rethink the name ‘side hustle’ because it conjures some negative associations and the naive presumption that side hustles happen at the expense of full-time jobs," says Gurney. "We firmly believe side hustles help us, as creative individuals, do our jobs better." 

Can you juggle a full-time job and a side hustle successfully?

Joash Thum, art director at VCCP Singapore, joined forces with a friend in 2021 to start a clothing line, möbius mise, which has since expanded into a creative studio and they now run multiple clothing brands like AHD, Peace Oeuvre and more, and even recently featured in Vogue Singapore.  

"It's definitely not easy to hold a full-time job and be part of an expanding business," says Thum. "But with the help of my business partners and brilliant colleagues at VCCP, I am able to manage both sides with the more than occasional sacrifice of sleep and a social life." 

Juggling a full-time job as well as working on a side hustle requires excellent time management and clear boundaries, says Nina Kong, strategy director at Media.Monks China, who together with her hustle partner founded South Bund, a custom suit designer for women.  

"I would say the key consideration is time management, as it’s easy to accidentally prioritise passion projects over your work, especially if your side hustle relies a lot on social content production and planning," says Kong. "There need to be clear boundaries – only checking your side hustle Instagram after work, for example, and not doing it first thing in the morning lest you get sucked into something that affects the start of your work day. 

Shouldn't one full-time job be enough?

While side hustles clearly offer benefits, some critics say that people wouldn't need to take on second jobs if their full time job paid better and gave more fulfilment.  

"Do you remember when people earned enough with one income to raise a family of four without the need of any credit cards or side hustles?" Asked one netizen in a response to a Linkedin thread on side hustles. "I recognise many people side hustle to make money, to save money, or pay off debt. Thus welcomes the reoccurring burnout we see widely across every sector." 

But for many of those with side hustles, the positives still outweigh the negatives. One supporter of side hustles is Marilyn Yeong, who in addition to being regional client VP at Assembly, also owns and runs one of Singapore’s largest dance equipment and apparel e-commerce stores, and believes that it's important to have something outside of work that keeps us motivated and inspired, which helps us stay driven in our full-time jobs and promotes better mental health.  

"As someone that is actively running a side gig, I also see the benefits that it brings to my role at Assembly," says Yeong. "My side hustle constantly puts me in my entrepreneurial mode, training my mind to think like a business owner, giving me a more in-depth understanding of our client’s perspective." 

But Yeong also admits that it's not always easy taking on two gigs. "Time management is always the biggest challenge – 24 hours a day simply isn’t enough," says Yeong. "It’s during these moments that having the right priorities is extremely important and your heart needs to be in the right place. And it starts with having mutual trust – the employer trusts that the employee has the best interest of the company at heart whilst the employee must respect the freedom that they are given to pursue their goals outside of work.” 

Side hustles: a win-win for employees and employers?

Tim Wood, executive creative director, Australia, Media.Monks, fully supports side hustles. "For starters, they're a great creative outlet. In addition, they can also help people understand the complexities and nuances of actually trying to run a business."  

Having led teams for a decade, Wood says it's easy to tell when someone becomes distracted by external factors, but, in his experience, this is seldom caused by someone's side hustle. "Worst case scenario, a side hustle takes off and you lose a good employee. But what a great outcome for them! You could only be happy for someone if that happened." 

And Publicis Groupe also absolutely allow and support their staff having side hustles. "We’ve noticed a shift in cultural and employee dynamics where increasingly people are evaluating how work fits in with their wants and needs in life, rather than the other way around," says Pauly Grant, Publicis Groupe chief talent officer. "Hence, as an employer, rather than focusing on creating a great employee experience, we aim to encourage and support a truly enriching life experience. Publicis is packed with passionate side hustlers... I love hearing that we have secret rockstars, artists, and influencers in our midst." 

One of those creative side hustlers is Tom McMullan, creative director at Digitas ANZ, whose side hustle is producing and presenting a horror movie exposure therapy podcast called 'Spooko'. Such a big supporter of side hustles is McMullan, that he doesn't 100% trust creatives that don’t have some sort of creative hobby they’re actively pursuing outside of their day job. 

"Most creatives I know love making things just for the sake of it, rather than always answering a brief with predetermined outputs and KPIs. For me, that’s where side hustles are crucial," says McMullan. "The best part about it is that creating outside of work provides more inspiration at work! Side hustles benefit the output of creatives in so many seen and unseen ways. From being a go-to for clients that are interested in podcasting, to making me a better presenter and storyteller, my side hustle makes me a better creative director."   

And Andreas Krasser, CEO, DDB Group Hong Kong, believes times have changed and agency leaders should support side hustles.  

"I’ve heard from multiple sides that some agency leaders apparently frown upon these side hustles, expecting their staff to be fully dedicated to the agency’s work," says Krasser. "I however think that we as an industry at large have to acknowledge the fact that times have changed, and that pet projects and side hustles can actually increase creativity and productivity at the workplace as well. That’s also why I not only encourage but even promote them. We are regularly posting via our owned channels the most inspiring and interesting side projects of our people." 


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