How Your Side Hustle Can Hurt Your Career

Avoidance coping can create more stress.
Sometimes it's tempting to just avoid thinking about stress, but there are better ways to cope. Getty Images/PeopleImages

Nearly half of U.S. workers have side hustles, including 43% of those who also have full-time jobs. Given that “full-time” often means far more than 40 hours a week, why do so many employees choose to add an extra gig to their busy schedules?

In part, it may be because they have to. The economy may be booming, but you couldn’t prove it by the typical American worker, whose paycheck may be worth less than it was before the recession. Raises hover around 3% at many organizations. Add in the impact of inflation and the rise in the cost of living, and it’s no surprise that real wages are now worth less than they were 10 years ago.

Of course, not every worker with a side gig does it because they must. Some workers are using their gigs to get ahead financially. They’re trying to pay down debt, contribute to tuition costs, or are planning ahead and saving for retirement.

A PeopleReady survey reports on even more reasons for taking on a side hustle, including getting an in with a company, and gaining new skills.

5 Ways Your Side Hustle Can Hurt Your Career

Regardless of why you’re working a side hustle, there are steps you need to take to protect yourself. An extra gig can help you boost your bank account or build your career, but it can also undermine your full-time job. Here’s what to watch out for: 

1. It Could Be Against Company Policy

Depending on the terms of your employment contract, your side hustle may conflict with your full-time job. Many employers require workers to sign non-compete clauses or non-disclosure agreements when they take the job. 

The former guarantees that you won’t work for a competitor while at your present job or for a set period afterward; the latter states that you won’t use trade secrets to boost your profits or those of another company. Review the terms of your contract, if you have one, before you take on a side hustle to be sure you haven’t agreed to any restrictions.

It’s a good idea to read up on any company policies about moonlighting or freelancing, even if your job doesn’t present a direct conflict. Your employer may have a policy regarding second jobs, but it needs to be clear and specific to be legally enforceable.

Also be discreet—you don’t want to break your word or get into legal peril, but there’s also no need to draw your employer’s attention to the fact that you’re planning to take on a part-time job. 

While you need to make sure you’re not placing your job in jeopardy, you don’t need to ask for your employer's explicit permission and create problems where there aren’t any.

2. You Might Find Yourself Stealing Work Time

To make your side hustle a success, you need to put in the time. This can be trickier than it sounds, especially when you’re working full-time. What will you do if your part-time gig takes off, and you need more time to fulfill orders or meet project deadlines?

It can be tempting to borrow a little work time, especially if things are slow. Resist this temptation. Not only is it unethical to get paid by your employer to work on your own project, but you’re also likely to get caught. Many employers monitor workers’ email or computer usage—and even if yours doesn’t, there’s a chance you could give yourself away by accident. 

Have you ever left something in the printer, emailed the wrong person, or said something you shouldn’t have in front of a coworker? It’s easy to do.

3. You Could Be Dipping Into Much-Needed Overtime

Remember, “full-time” can mean more than 40 hours a week, especially during busy times of the year. If your side gig eats up all your non-work hours, you might find yourself in a bind when you need to do extra work at your day job. 

Even if you hope to turn your side gig into a career, you’ll likely need to stay on good terms with your current employer. That means budgeting in time to excel in your role. 

4. It Could Undermine Your Reputation

Side hustles are an increasingly common part of our culture, and they’re often seen as evidence of entrepreneurial spirit. But it’s worth asking yourself whether there’s a potential problem for your personal brand before you start your additional job. 

How can your side job undermine your reputation at your main job? It all depends on the brand identity of your main employer versus the public perception of your side gig. 

Let’s say that you’re a medical assistant and that your primary job is at a doctor’s office. You might think twice about picking up a side gig related to alcohol or tobacco sales and promotion.

In fact, if your side hustle involves sales, you should be careful not to prospect at your primary job. That also means not hitting up your coworkers on social media to see whether they want to buy your products or services.

5. You Could Get Burned Out on Both Jobs

It’s normal to burn the candle at both ends when you’re launching something new, but keep in mind that you can’t do it forever. You need rest, exercise, nutrition, and time with family and friends. Otherwise, you’re likely to get sick and tired of both your jobs—and maybe just sick and tired, period. 

Overworking can lead to job burnout, which in turn can increase your risk of mental and physical illness. 

Remember, you started this side hustle to make your life better, whether by boosting your earnings, building your career, or going out on your own. Destroying your health won’t help you achieve those goals. 

Key Takeaways

  • Check company policy. Know your company policy’s or your employment agreement before you start a side hustle.
  • Do it on your own time. Don’t use company time or materials to work on your own projects.
  • Don’t get burned out. Try to balance the time you spend on gig work with your full-time job, so you have a reasonable work-life balance.