Nowadays, everybody wants to be described as a ‘Girl Boss’. To be seen squirrelling away hours working on their second (and third, and fourth) careers, all the while holding down a successful 9-5 job, a full social life and a brilliant relationship. To be one of those people who proudly monetises their free time; who wears the phrase ‘I’m so busy’ like a badge of honour. But what goes on behind closed doors, when there are barely any hours left in the day for sleep, family, health? Welcome to the dark side of side hustling.
Today, 1 in 4 of the UK’s total adult population has a side hustle - a number that is growing amongst millennials. One look at your Instagram feed and you’ll see photographers selling prints online, fashion bloggers launching clothing lines, and celebrity trainers selling bespoke ’12 Step Fitness Routines’.
Everybody wants a piece of the side-hustle pie, and it’s not hard to see why. Side hustles can be a way of channeling your passion into something you love, or creating a creative outlet that fills you with joy while making extra money. And who wouldn’t want that?
When side hustling leads to sleep deprivation
For some, though, putting that into practice isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Caoilfhionn Maguire initially saw side-hustling as a travel writer as a brilliant way to pursue her desire to see the world, and get some extra cash in while holding down a full time job. The only problem was, she didn’t know when to stop. “While my side-hustle helped me travel, which is my biggest love in life, it meant I was often working until midnight and not getting enough sleep,” Caoilfhionn tells Cosmopolitan. “I pressured myself to deliver work faster than was humanly possible.”
After three years of burning the candle at both ends, she had reached breaking point. “I hit full on burnout and it wasn't pretty. I had to take 3 weeks off work — full-time and side hustle, which ultimately made me incredibly anxious.” Ironically, it was over-working that resulted in not working at all, which in turn can cause money worries, career concerns and overall increased anxiety.
"I had to take 3 weeks off work — full-time and side hustle, which ultimately made me incredibly anxious."
Caoilfhionn isn’t the only one working extra hours to juggle her various jobs; a recent study by Henley Business School says that people with side hustles work 50 hour weeks on average - almost 13 hours more than the standard UK worker. Rebecca Tilford, who runs an independent fashion magazine while working two part-time jobs, is one of them. “My part-time gigs pay the bills, but are not my true passion,” she tells us. “I work four days a week as a personal shopper, one day for a digital publication in London, and the other two running my magazine. I try to keep my weekends free, but it almost never happens.”
With this jam-packed diary comes exhaustion – something with Rebecca says leads to minor inconveniences ruining her day. “I drop a bit of tea on the floor, and it feels like the end of the world. Every day I feel pressure to be productive, constantly.Physically, I’m just tired all the time.”
When side hustling gets in the way of socialising
Exhaustion aside, 30% of side hustlers also commit their annual leave to working – something which Anna Willat, who juggled a corporate job with a vintage wedding dress business, found left no room for friends or family. “My diary became busier as I was fitting wedding fairs and meetings alongside a full working week,” she explains. “I had no time to socialise; I neglected friendships to prioritise my new found passion to get things done.”
It’s easy to see how a side hustler might experience feelings of guilt and stress for spending time with family and friends, when they could otherwise be working on the grind. “I think something people don’t talk about is the ‘it’s all on me’ feeling,” freelance journalist Annabel Herrick says of attempting to set healthy work boundaries. “I used to be open to working weekends but now I try to avoid that if possible. I still struggle with the freelance guilt (the idea that we should always be working) but it’s something I’m still figuring out.”
When side hustling leads to burn out
Side hustles can be very exciting endeavours, so it’s easy to see how the lines between ‘working hard’ and overworking can get blurred. The dangerous cocktail of fatigue, anxiety and isolation brought about by nonstop working is a recipe for disaster, and can lead to burnout. Last April, the World Health Organisation officially recognised burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ – a syndrome that manifests from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Sounds like something that might go hand in hand in side hustling, doesn’t it?
According to Anji Mcgrandles, founder of workplace wellbeing consultancy The Mind Tribe, the signs of burnout can be brought on from too much working - and easily be overlooked. She tells Cosmopolitan, “The negative effects of burnout seep into all areas of your life. Your energy levels become low, your mindset becomes negative, your motivation depletes, and you are susceptible to illness.” She advises putting preventative measures in place – getting enough sleep, and not taking on too much work.
But despite all this - the lack of sleep, isolation and risk of burnout – the number of side-hustlers continues to rise. 53% of all UK side hustles were created in the last two years alone, and successful hustles contribute to 20% of some worker’s incomes. Henley Business school predicts that by 2030, Generation Side Hustle will double in size, because in uncertain and ever changing times, even the risk of burnout can’t get in the way of people making extra money.