When you’re locked down at home, you’ve lost your job or been put on furlough, and your academic and professional future has been put on hold, what do you do? For Millennials and Gen Z, the answer was ‘set up a side hustle’.
But while the COVID pandemic understandably led to a surge in young people taking on side hustles, more than one-third of people in the 16-24, 25-34 and 35-44 age groups had at least one side business back in 2018.
What's the driving factor behind this young-person mindset to hustle, hustle, hustle then?
The more you try to understand, the easier it is to see that it isn’t greed, aspiration, boredom or social media that’s motivating them. For many under 40 today, their side hustle is born of necessity — here’s why.
Reason 1: Young people have seen the instability of the world, firsthand
Long gone are the days where a family of four could comfortably live on a single income. The toxic mix of wage stagnation plus inflation has made it difficult to survive on even a middle-class salary. It’s baffling, really, that in a developed country like the UK, we’ve reached the point where there are people working full-time, in industrialised economies, who need to rely on food banks.
Millennials and Gen Z have grown up seeing this transformation firsthand. From the 2008 economic crisis, through exponentially rising house prices, to the financial instability of the last two years, it’s not exactly an environment that breeds economic optimism.
We've even reached the point where some people have to choose between buying a house or having children because they cannot afford to do both. Surely that in itself is a marker of system failure?
Then along came COVID-19. People under 30 were disproportionately affected by furlough, job losses and salary cuts in the pandemic, according to the Resolution Foundation think-tank.
Individuals could no longer bank on job stability, after COVID economic losses hit nearly every single industry. For many people under 40, it just makes sense to work for themselves, monetise their skills and reap the rewards.
Entrepreneurship is a way of taking charge of their life.
Reason 2: Side hustles supplement earnings –– and young people need money
And it’s not as if day-to-day living is getting any cheaper in the current context, either. Regular salaries are no longer enough to survive on, especially for young people renting in major cities who want to save for their future.
This is the first group of people in decades who will be financially worse off than their parents were, despite doing all the "right" things (work hard, go to university, get a good degree (or two!) and a good job.
Rents are sky-high, house prices are out of control, student debt keeps on building, and even just existing costs money many don’t have.
Basically: young people need money. And having just one job is no longer enough.
Reason 3: Young people are disenchanted in their full-time jobs
If 2020 was the year of Job Loss, 2021 is now the year of the Great Resignation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. The number of young people resigning is at an all time high, as workers are reaching breaking point after months and months of dissatisfaction.
Through 2020, we all worked from home, waited out hiring freezes, faced huge workloads –– and for what? Lockdown allowed for a period of reflection and a collective epiphany. People are no longer willing to work all the hours of the day and night for low wages, zero recognition and zero progress.
The reality of a corporate job is that progress can be slow, and too often corporations are hesitant to invest in training and personal growth for their employees.
Unfortunately, hard work gets you more work and loyalty is usually rewarded with… well, not much at all. Young people are slowly realising this, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Being self-employed, making your own hours, and answering to no one but yourself looks pretty damn attractive right now.
Reason 4: The corporate world has lost its sparkle
Associated with this, more and more young people are waking up to the ills of capitalism. It is evident that wealth is typically hoarded, not shared –– which is a tough reality to face.
It’s like this quote, which circulated the internet earlier this year: “If a monkey hoarded more bananas than it could eat, while most of the other monkeys starved, scientists would study that monkey to figure out what the heck was wrong with it. When humans do it, we put them on the cover of Forbes.”
Participation in the corporate rat race is becoming far less attractive –– and establishing a veritable side hustle paves the way out.
So… what does side hustle culture mean for the world?
There’s no denying that side hustle culture is a good thing. And, if you look at the above in a positive light, the setting is perfect for this new wave of entrepreneurialism.
After all, the internet has made it easier than ever for young people to monetise their skills and available time. Platforms like Depop, Etsy, Upwork and Patreon have provided a place for people to make money, while TikTok and Instagram are mega-successful marketing tools.
The internet is a great place for upskilling, too. No matter what someone may want to learn, there are a hundred or more YouTube tutorials for self-learning. Sites like Skillshare and Udemy also offer thousands of different courses for learning things that can easily be monetised.
And alongside this fresh energy for small business and innovation, comes a positive force of ethics as well.
From dark times come beacons of hope
A disillusioned, young entrepreneur confronting the realities of late-stage capitalism tends to also be a vocal supporter of sustainability, eco-awareness, “better business” and initiatives such as B Corp.
2021’s side hustlers know that not all business has to be bad. In fact, when done right, businesses can do a lot for society as well as the individual. As long as a corporation can put aside the need for big-figure profits and dizzying growth, it can instead strive to exist in a more considerate and equitable way for everyone involved.
That’s exactly what we do at Yala. We’re a B Corp and have been since 2019. In fact, we were the first jewellery company in the UK to make the move.
We thoroughly believe in doing business without doing harm — and that profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Sure, we don't claim to be perfect by any stretch. After all, the most sustainable items are the ones you already own!
We can only hope that this tidal wave of young people eschewing traditional corporate jobs in favour of following their passions will be a good thing for society as a whole. The more individuals who care about being ethical and sustainable, the better, we say.