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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Executive Insights

5 Smart Reasons to Support Employee Side Projects

In today’s work world, we don’t do ideas. We do projects. Yet one-third of all business projects are destined to fail, according to The Standish Group, a research advisory firm. Even worse, consulting firm Geneca reports that a staggering 75% of technology execs anticipate their companies’ software projects may crash and burn.

Some might argue that project success rates would rise with changes such as stronger oversight, better business planning, and increased clarity on need and purpose. And they’d be right.

But what if there was a simpler solution? And that is to let employees spend a portion of their time on side projects that excite and inspire them more than their ‘real’ projects.

For managers, this may hold a surprising message: Business projects fail less, and succeed more, when employees can devote some of their energy and effort to side projects they’re passionate about. Why? Because employees become more engaged, creative, collaborative, and productive in their work. And this increases their purpose and performance across the board — in all their projects.

Google, among other leading companies, has long allowed employees to devote 20 percent of their time to side-project initiatives. The tech giant understands that what starts as a personal ‘passion project’ can ultimately boost the bottom line. In fact, what we now know as Gmail and Google Maps were once side projects.

If you’re a manager today, the notion of sanctioning employee side projects is probably worrying, if not maddening. Other projects — real projects — might be failing spectacularly, and here you are, letting your people work on seemingly frivolous side projects. But, in all likelihood, the rewards will manifest in individual and business success stories. Here are five smart reasons why.

Higher productivity

More freedom, independence, and control often lead to greater mastery. And mastery is key to any worker’s performance. Side projects embody or contribute to all these things, and together they can’t help but raise worker productivity. As a result, employees consistently do their best and most productive work across all their projects.

Better teamwork

When people work on side projects — something that really moves them and stokes their imagination — they are more inclined to seek out a ‘support pack’ of peers. Perhaps for the first time, they are drawn to teaming up with like-minded coworkers, discovering common ground, and collaborating on ideas and opportunities.

Greater creativity and innovation

With side projects, work becomes more intrinsically motivated and refreshingly riskless. Employees, as a result, become more freethinking, creative, and innovative, and these ‘juices’ naturally transfer to their regular projects.

Increasing trust and accountability

When their job doesn’t depend on their side project’s success, and their only ‘pressure’ is in the joy derived, employees tend to trust themselves and their managers more, as well as take more personal responsibility. And in genuinely feeling less anxious or unsure, they become increasingly open, honest, and accountable in all their projects.

Improved health and well-being

Employees derive deep, often profound meaning from their side projects. Subsequently, they feel less stressed-out and more content, relaxed, and fulfilled. Such happiness is bound to improve their health and well-being, and give them the fortitude to shake off any obstacles on their real projects.

Smart managers support their employees’ side projects, so why not be one of them? For your workers, your team, and your company, the reasons are powerful — and the rewards plentiful.


Wrritten by Charlie Gilkey.

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Charlie Gilkey
Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, he helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done. Charlie is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.
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