HomeAnalysisSide hustle: The great absent worker

Side hustle: The great absent worker

THE world is currently battling what experts have termed the “great resignation” where staff attrition is at its peak.

Covid-19 has exposed the world to the fact that you can work from anywhere i.e., flexibility and priorities have changed resulting in lots of staff movements.

In my observation, Zimbabwe is now suffering from what I have termed “the absent worker” and this opinion piece focuses on the impact side-hustles have contributed.


The absent worker is a staff member, who comes to work all the time, but during working hours, their energy and time is spent on other things outside their duties and responsibilities.

A dangerous version of this worker is one who is absent on the pretext of being sick.

This type of employee can look so busy or taking a lot of phone calls during the day, but a closer investigation reveals they are not busy with their duties but non-company related activities.

Side hustling
The proliferation of the adage that a person must have multiple sources of income and the worsening economic environment, which basically eroded and continues to erode salaries is a major catapult to side hustles, as loosely termed. This is basically a job or occupation, full time or part time that brings extra money beyond one’s regular job and main source of income.

The runaway inflation and exchange rate distortions make it impossible for employers to adjust salaries in line with inflation and rate changes and with prices indexed to alternative market rates, an employee is in a quandary to make ends meet based on their main income.

In its own respect, I strongly believe side hustles are very good as economic emancipation is the remaining aspect that Zimbabweans need to be liberated from.

Side hustles do take many forms and tend to differ depending on market and location dynamics and to some extent cultural factors.

For instance, an employee in London would not keep chickens in their backyard and sell them as a side hustle, I bet even their neighbourhood laws may not even permit that, but chicken business is the order of the day back home.

A closer look into most neighbourhoods in the locations you can see that some landlords have actually turned certain rooms in their house into chicken runs as a means of augmenting their main income.

Zimbabweans tend to go with the hustle that is paying during that season, if the word is chickens are paying these days, you will see many people keeping chickens, which often results in strong competition for market and eventually the side hustle does not yield the maximum potential it might have had to be able to eventually become a main hustle.

In Europe and Americas, I have noted that most of their side hustles are in the line of stock market investments, online trading, bitcoins investment and real estate investments.

Others do second jobs after work, where they are an overnight security officer, bouncer, bartender, exotic dancers or even child minder or drivers.

An emerging side hustle is tech related where people are developers or influencers on social media platforms, which many in this space eventually quit their main job and the side hustle becomes the main business.

Choice of a side hustle is also critical, for instance driving an UBER, renting your house on AirBnB, online tutoring, online blogging, YouTube videos and social media influencing are some things that can be done during your downtime.

But for this market, it can be tricky. However, we are part of a global village and there are limitless opportunities. These kinds of hustles can fit perfectly in the schedule of a full time working person.

Where are we getting it wrong?
In my humble submission I have noted that locally, increasingly staff are spending more of employer’s time on side hustles, hence productivity rates are tumbling. The absent worker can go out and come back after three hours on a normal eight-hour day, excluding their lunch break and one wonders when they actually do the work they are getting paid for.

Worse, there is the phenomenon here called “school run” which I find interesting as during my time working in London, I did not come across something like that. People are spending more time in traffic and outside work doing deals while their work is lagging.

I am aware of certain companies that had to ban staff from selling items at the workplaces as at times you would notice that the staff fridge in the canteen is now the location for chickens being sold to other co-workers.

At some premises the basement or garage is the distribution centre for merchandise that range from fish to potatoes, and you have outsiders coming to the premises not for the main business of the employer but side hustles.

The work ethic is slowly being eroded as staff just no longer care about being productive and doing their duties or respecting the time of the employer. Working in insurance in London, I knew every hourly output of my work was monitored, the employer invested in technology to track performance in real time and there was no time for being sloppy.

A typical employee overseas will tell you that most if not all the times you do not have room to even check social media while at work, but back home, it is a different story.

Service industry is a good case study, one sees a long queue at the hospital or passport office and when you check the person in the office, they are busy on Facebook or on WhatsApp selling stuff. At some places you can spend hours waiting to be served because the responsible person is out closing a deal of their own.

I once worked at an agriculture-based organisation, and you would hear reports that the agronomist whom we expect to be out helping farmers and marketing our products is actually spending most of their time on their own farms or plots or even consulting during the employer’s time and using the employer’s resources such as our vehicles and organisational material.

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns introduced us to remote working and for some organisations it has been a disaster as employees blame network or electricity challenges when in actual fact, the staff members are busy conducting their own business.

Once I had a subordinate, who was operating a car wash during the lockdown period when we were working remotely during normal business hours. Certain employees’ online profiles will reflect they are online but if you reach out to them for work related items through an email, they respond hours later, meaning the person is/was not really at work.

Where to from here
I strongly believe side hustles are very good, but time spent on side hustles should not compete with time spent or supposedly spent on the employer’s time. As a professional accountant myself, key principles in our profession which if adhered to, side hustles will not compromise productivity i.e.

Integrity — if you are a person of integrity you know that it is wrong for me to say I was working when I know that I was spending all day on my own side hustle during work time.

Honesty — honest staff will not give silly excuses for connectivity when they know they are doing other things. You will not abuse company vehicles running your personal errands.

Professional behaviour — it is very unprofessional to be absent from work or not giving your full attention and due care to your work just because you are busy with other commitments during the employer’s time. It is also unprofessional to use employers’ resources or intellectual property to run your side business

Objectivity — as employees, we have to remain objective at all times and being objective means you know it is wrong to spend undue time doing your own things at the expense of the employer.

Employers need to employ more performance monitoring techniques and software to ensure staff is working as they should. Output measurement models need to be robust. Targets and their monitoring should be employed or even a task-based system.

It used to be an interview question “what do you do in your spare time”, but now it should be an employer’s continued assessment of whether what used to be “spare time” is now being done on “our time”.

In the audit profession, we employed use of time sheets to track productivity but its key drawback was little attention was made into reviews of those time sheets to confirm if indeed the output of the worker is in line with the hours they purport to have spent on a particular job. How much attention is management or supervisors putting in to ensure staff are actually working?

Is the job even well-defined that there can be a measurement tool or basis to track performance? Breaking a job into a series of small tasks may be a good starting point to track performance.

I appreciate that productivity is not time-based or time-spent doing a task. However, if the job specifications are an 8am-4pm job, it means the employer already assessed that on average it would take this long to complete your tasks for a typical productive employee.

For me, it is senior management, by virtue of the role who can have a flexible productivity-based system, which is not hours based because a typical employee, come 1pm or 5pm they close their desktops immediately whether there is a queue for customers or work to be done and leave for lunch or for the day. You certainly cannot grow a business with absent employees.

Oftentimes I hear that because my salary is not enough, hence do not expect me to be fully engaged in work and not do my own things. Such thinking is the one that has hurt the work ethic in this country.

That same line of thinking is why people cheat in personal relationships as they say they are not satisfied at home. If your salary is not enough, leave employment and pursue other profitable endeavours or find a better paying job — my boss once said so harshly but it was the truth.

We cannot justify laziness on the basis of poor remuneration. This also does not excuse employers from the need to ensure salaries are relevant to the cost of living and the job responsibilities. I believe we must separate work ethic from compensation.

Employers, it is high time work life balance is introduced at your workplaces, employees should be able to chase other dreams outside of work. Those dreams can be in the form of a side hustle.

Do give your workers time off so that such downtime can be used effectively. When last was a job diagnostic, infrastructure gap, redesign and reskilling done in your organisation. Learning journeys need to be embarked to address the absent worker and ensure employee engagement is restored.

Lastly, an observation I made is that in some companies, it is even the top management, including the CEO, who spend most of their time running their own business from the company premises. One thing I learned from working in Europe was that they take work seriously and the employer is very serious about the staff actually working.

I encourage young professionals to also visit other countries and learn what the work ethic is like as it can reshape our thinking. Employers should consider secondments to their companies in other territories as it helps in restoring work ethic.

My parting shot is that side hustles are good but time spent on side hustles should not compete with the employer’s time for what you are contractually being paid for. If we are to build this country, we need this kind of thinking back in the corporate space and us professional accountants we should lead by example.

Makwara  is a chartered accountant with both local and international experience having most of his career in audit and currently is working as the group financial manager of a local listed entity.

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