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Embracing the multi-hyphen career: what to do if you love your job but don’t want to define yourself by one role

New research suggests embracing flexible work arrangements may just be the secret to attracting millennial workers

Amy Chandler

If you browse Instagram on the regular, you’ve probably noticed a trend sweeping Instagram bios of women everywhere. Podcaster and writer Emma Gannon calls it ‘the multi-hyphenate method’. The idea that you can have multiple ‘hyphens’ to what you do and your fingers in several professional pies.

Need evidence? My own Instagram bio reads ‘PR Manager-turned consultant who also helps women raise their profiles’. Then there’s my cousin’s bio, which reads: ‘Dairy farmer by day, makeup artist by night’. Name a more incompatible career duo, I’ll wait.  What about my friend who is a sonographer-turned leadership coach? Tourism executive who builds websites on the side? Paramedic with a side of yoga studio owner? The list goes on.

The point is: the rules of work have changed. Professional women are redefining the way they work and are building careers that defy categorisation. Because why not? In 2019, we have the technology to redesign our professional lives and make money on our own terms, wherever we want and whenever we want — and we can be damn successful doing it too.

New research suggests embracing this style of flexible work arrangement may just be the secret to attracting millennial workers. Research by Ernst & Young shows that flexibility is the number one driver of retention, increasing employee engagement by 11%, which is why the accounting firm is offering employees a chance to go on “life leave” or work part time.

Flexible initiatives include term time working (a part-time arrangement with an income similar to a 4-day week that allows people to work full-time during the school term times but not work during school holidays), life leave (the ability to take between 6-12 weeks of self-funded leave), and temporary part-time leave options.

But what happens if you don’t work for Ernst & Young or Zoos SA? How do you navigate starting a side project while holding down a relatively traditional 9-5 job? These are questions we are all asking ourselves. Here’s how I navigated redefining my working week with the full support of my wonderful employer — and how you can too.

Make yourself uniquely valuable

Let’s be honest, not all employers are going to love-heart-eye emoji your quest for flexibility. You may be challenging traditional beliefs of the working world. Remember, your organisation doesn’t have to give you flexibility. The best way to address this is to demonstrate excellence and commitment to your role and organisation in the months and years that precipitate you asking to take a full time role part time. As they say, the best defense is a good offense. If you are a valued and motivated employee with a uniquely valuable skill set, your employer will be more inclined to support your creative pursuits.

Transparency with your employer is key

Before you register the ABN or lock down the Instagram handle, work up the courage to speak with your employer. My employer, Zoos SA, has been nothing but supportive. While you may dread the initial conversation, my conversation with my general manager at the time couldn’t have gone better. Of course my boss had questions – lots of questions – but overall he was incredibly understanding, supportive and excited for me.

After our first meeting, we agreed that I could start a business on the side while working my full time role. He drew up some guidelines of what the arrangement would look like. This included obvious things like the fact I wouldn’t consult to any of my employer’s competitors. I also assured him I’d be available in the event of a crisis or emergency.

Several months after the initial discussion, I asked to reduce my hours and step down from my role two days a week. We agreed on a six month trial. To this day, my general manager and I still speak about how I am balancing my dual responsibilities at my six monthly PDPs and we – jointly – make sure the arrangement continues to be mutually beneficial.

Get organised

While a portfolio career can be fulfilling and you’re almost guaranteed to never be bored, organisation is key. Juggling multiple plates can leave you feeling overwhelmed and tired if you’re not careful. While you want flexibility and creativity, you don’t want your career to become a veritable hot mess. Take it from me: trying to satisfy bosses, clients and colleagues who are all on separate schedules and who each believe you should be putting them first, is hard. You have to try to be as organised as you can (I’m still working on this!) and you need to be crystal clear about when you’re available and when you’re not. Most of all, remember to be responsive to your employer’s needs — after all they’ve been flexible with you!

Highlight the benefits for the organisation

While working flexibly or part time is not a suitable option for every employee in every business, it presents a number of commercial benefits. Firstly, my new found flexibility has forced me to become incredibly effective with my time. With only three days a week to complete what could be a five day role, I try not to spend longer in meetings than I need to. The phenomenon of ‘meeting creep’, the idea that the meeting will naturally stretch to fill the allotted time, is no longer an issue for me. That’s because I’ll make it my mission to get to the ‘decision point’ of the meeting and if I sense the discussion has wandered into territory that is not going to move the needle, I will politely ask if there is anything else and then will leave. And just like that? What could have been an hour long meeting (without us realising) became a 15 minute meeting.

This has influenced the way our entire team operates; we are abundantly more strategic with our time. Everything we do has to move the needle on one of our strategic priorities. We no longer send internal emails, instead we use messaging tools and Trello to keep internal emails to a minimum. If multiple team members are invited to a meeting, we have a five minute pre-meeting and then one team member represents our views at the meeting.

What else? My stepping down two days created budget for a communications assistant to join our team, creating job opportunities. She has bought a fresh perspective, energy and ideas to the team.

Not to mention, the break from the long-hours office culture has been transformative for both my well-being, creativity and productivity. Rather than working full time and then working until 11pm on the side hustle, I now work three days a week and have two days a week to dedicate to other projects. It has made me tenfold more creative.

Employee retention is another obvious upside. I have been with my employer for over three years and the generosity of their support is not lost on me. I will honour the support they’ve given me by supporting their needs as best I can. Win-win.

Celebrate your new found multi-hyphenate status

In her book, Emma Gannon encourages people to own their multi-hyphenate status. After all, this is something you’ve wanted and you’ve had the difficult conversations to bring it to fruition.

So, whether you’re a dairy farmer who has mastered contouring or an executive assistant who wants to start a podcast, update your Linkedin profile to say you have a new project and you’re doing it with the generous support of your employer.

Edit your Instagram bio to reflect your new found portfolio career and start celebrating the fact you have many strings to your bow.

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