Look to Internal Side-Gigs to Boost Employee Engagement | by Laura Izquierdo | May, 2021

The Case for Internal-Side-Gigs

Now, what if an organization could tap into this hidden talent? Internal-side-gig initiatives could serve to both boost productivity through greater engagement and offer an array of competitive advantages for businesses of all kinds.

Employees could add value in a plethora of ways. Whether in the form of building the company’s online presence; employees could contribute to the company’s blog or manage its social media, start an internal podcast, become involved with organizing company events, provide technical services, or teach other employees a new language. There may even be opportunities for talented photographers, or enthusiastic actors who could star in the company’s training videos.

Professor of Business Psychology Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic recommends three things to boost employee engagement; all of which are compatible with the idea of ‘internal side-gig opportunities’.

He suggests employers use extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivators; i.e. recognize the need to encourage employees as opposed to “wait and see” if they become interested to do something. This could be a reason why Google’s 20-percent time benefit isn’t widely applied. Whilst it’s true people tend to perform better when they’re intrinsically motivated, this isn’t the case with disengaged workers, who are more likely to wait for specific orders and need to be extrinsically motivated.

So rather than giving employees a vague, conceptual go-ahead, a better idea is to advertise side-gig opportunities internally; encouraging employees to sign up to a clearly defined task, for which their contribution would be recognized, having satisfied a specific business need. However, this doesn’t mean employers should limit themselves to internally advertised posts. Employees may well have an idea they’d like to pitch and opening the floor for suggestions will only increase the opportunities for employees to add value to the business.

In addition, high engagement as originally conceptualized by William Khan, occurs when there’s a person’s sense of self and their work persona are closely aligned, which explains why people often feel disengaged when their beliefs and values don’t mirror those of their employer. It’s not therefore surprising that acknowledging worker’s individual interests increases engagement. What better way to apply this in a mutually beneficial way, than by offering internal-side-gig opportunities through which workers can explore and develop their interests whilst serving the company?

Respecting people’s space likewise goes a long way. At least for most people, there is more to life than work. People have passion-projects, hobbies, interests outside their role. Internal-side-gig opportunities present a way for workers to tap into this ‘space’ even when the ‘client’ is the employer. They are opportunities to escape their routinary workflow.

So in reality, the question isn’t whether or not ‘20-percent time’ continues to exist at Google, or whether it’s even workable in a $1 trillion public company. The question is whether businesses in general (the vast majority of which operate in a completely different ballpark to the abovementioned tech-giant), can benefit from the same initiative that contributed to Google’s initial growth?

The answer is, absolutely! And there’s never been a better time. In 2018, US independent workers spent a billion hours per week freelancing, contributing $1.28 trillion to the American economy. The demand for diversification and freedom is clear. Businesses would be remiss to ignore it.


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