I think side projects are invaluable for your career. I also made a good case of at least four reasons why they make people better employees as well. Because of my bias, the other side of the argument will certainly be harder to navigate, but I think it’s only fair to explore how side projects can also cause problems for your work environment.
Unless you’re LeBron James you’re brand probably isn’t bigger than that of your company (unless it’s tiny). Even then, you still need to be able to rely on the other member’s of your team in order for the company to succeed. How many championships does LeBron have with that supporting cast?
Sometimes employees’ side projects make them supremely confident in their abilities (this is good), but sometimes that confidence turns into an unchecked ego in which an employee feels that he’s somehow bigger or better than the company he works for.
As a result he/she might try to use their status to make unfair requests, slack on the job, and take unnecessary risks under the assumption that if the company doesn’t adhere to their behavior, they’ll just go somewhere else or start their own gig.
In fairness if their efforts to grow and become a better employee outside of regular office hours does indeed make them more knowledgeable, more skilled, etc. AND THEY’RE BUSTING THEIR ASS, then sure the company should try to accommodate them to retain the value they provide.
That’s not what we’re talking about though – we’re talking about blunt force ego that is toxic, and detrimental to what matters most: The Team.
Disrespect for Company Time
I’m a firm believer that what you do on your lunch hour is your time, but the first time you start using office time or resources to work on a project for another client a side project then you’re out of line.
This also goes for working until 4 am to finish something for a side project and it adversely affecting the work you do for your organization the next morning. It’s pretty much on par with getting drunk at lunch on Friday and playing Sporcle all afternoon.
The scenarios above are pretty blatant, but where do you draw the line? If Frank Eliason just answered 12 customer service requests and wants to rest is weary typing fingers can he read an article in his Google reader about the ROI of customer service that will aid him in a side consulting gig he’s doing for the local Elks Lodge? Maybe he clicked on it because it appealed to that gig, but clearly the knowledge acquired in that article could also help him with his day job at Comcast, right?
Personally, I don’t know of any instances where this has happened. I don’t know how you could keep it a secret, but I don’t think side projects should EVER be an excuse to swipe clients (“I can do the same thing for cheaper on weekends”) or even take on clients that could potentially be a good fit for your organization.
Case in point. I haven’t done any side projects (aside from little residual online web spaces) in awhile because I’ve been really busy, but when I did – it consisted solely of friends who ran small businesses who just wanted to learn the ropes of social media. Most paid what they could, which was great compensation for me as I simultaneously acquired more experience, but I don’t know if it would’ve turned the lights on in our office for a day. The one time a potential client came to me with a larger budget I disclosed to them immediately that I’d love to help them, but that I thought they’d be a better fit for our organization as a whole. More people = more knowledge, more resources, better execution, etc.
Though wrong, I could envision how the first two scenarios could slowly develop over time. But this last one (and again, I can’t speak to instances where it’s happened, though I’m sure it does) there’s no excuse and I wouldn’t want to with anyone that would sacrifice their integrity over something like that.
Please weigh in. I know I’m missing other scenarios, but as someone who lacks the managerial experience of having employees do side projects I can’t think of any realistic and/or glaring situations I should add to the list. I’d appreciate your insights and would love to hear about situations you’ve encountered.
And after hearing the side both for and against side projects, which side would you take if you were a manager and your employees wanted to participate in side gigs. What rules/limitations/policy would you put in place for employees side projects?
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