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Five Tips For Hustling Past a Co-worker's Side Hustle

You have a job, but that's no excuse for not having a side hustle!

What is a "side hustle"? It's the downtime-deflecting, 21st-Century way of saying "a second job" or "side job." It's sort of like how we used to say "free agent nation," but now we say "gig economy." Same thing, only by a different name.

Chances are, a few of your work colleagues have an entrepreneurial side hustle going in today's gig economy. Side hustles go back decades to a time when everyone was doing The Hustle while our mom was at a neighbor's Tupperware party.


Modern side hustles can range the map from selling makeup, jewelry and other product lines (see your Facebook feed for ideas) to running errands to graphic design. A good side hustle can supplement an income while satisfying an entrepreneurial craving.

Instead of debating the profitability (and sketchiness) of some side hustles, however, let's take a closer look at the cracks they can put in the average workplace relationship when the co-worker with a raging case of side hustle starts pitching a product or service to co-workers. You'll be amazed how well this stuff works!

Congratulations, you are more than a co-worker now; you are a built-in, standing desk-bound sales opportunity.

A 2013 Accounting Principles Workanomix survey found nearly half of employees (49%) felt no guilt or hesitation in saying "no, thanks" to a co-worker's product pitch, but nearly one-quarter of employees (24%) felt pressured to buy the products even if they didn't want, or need, them.

The pressure to buy is one reason your employer probably has a policy prohibiting employees from soliciting their side hustles in the workplace. Alas, such policies do not stop all employees from promoting their side hustles on the down low at work. You might feel like you're on your own as you dodge a colleague's parking lot product pitches and off-site party invites.

This workplace conundrum can result in conflicted feelings. On the one hand, you can understand this co-worker's desire to earn more money through a side gig. We live in an entrepreneurial culture that values hard work. It takes a high level of energy, and a good attitude, to make a second job successful.

On the other hand, you're the type of person who would rather have a root canal than corner your friends, family and work colleagues with sales pitches. You see a boundary here, and deep down you feel disappointed that a colleague-turned-workplace-friend so easily flouted the fine lines you hold dear. This realization is perhaps the most difficult thing of all. You see this colleague in a new light, and it isn't very pretty.

How should you handle this 21st-Century workplace dilemma without running to HR to flap your unlined lips? Here are five tips for dealing with co-workers who start pitching outside products at work:

1. No means no. Unfortunately, you have to be very aggressive up front in your refusal the first time. Don't just say no, but NO. Don't say, "Sorry, not right now," which leaves the door open. You must send the message that says, "Sorry, not now, not ever, I'm broke." If this co-worker won't stop pitching, then tell them you do not want to talk about it anymore. Bring every conversation back to the work.

2. Avoid intrusive questions. This co-worker might ask too many questions, or inadvertently insult you while trying to sell a product. This foundation would make you look so much better in fluorescent lighting! Yikes. Just let it go. Your skin care regimen is none of this co-worker's business, unless you make it so. Excuse yourself, if necessary. Oh, look at the time!

3. Evaluate each side hustle. Are you supporting a co-worker's Etsy hobby, or are you simply the next in line to be sold on an "opportunity"? Having a co-worker who moonlights as a cab driver could come in handy, but feeling pressured to buy is not okay. Trust your gut instincts. Look up a few product reviews. Don't feel pressured to buy just because you work with this person.

4. Hide these colleagues on social media. Ah, your social media feed has never looked better! The risk is missing valuable work information, or appearing not to be a team player. It might be easier to scroll past this colleague's latest humblebrag about getting carded for a drink, and chalking it up to the makeup line they're selling on the side. Please make it stop.

5. Have a script ready. You'll need to have your own elevator pitch for deflecting the co-workers who want to sell you something. You might also seek advice from the person in your life who knows how to shut down a sales pitch the first time. We all know somebody who is like kryptonite in the face of aggressive marketing. Learn from them!

Should you go to management with this issue? Only you can answer this question, based on your particular workplace culture. It might be safer to practice saying "no, thanks" firmly in front of a mirror. If you do go to management, then you might simply say that you've noticed employees are being asked to buy products at work and it's becoming a distraction. A good manager will clue in, issue the proper reminders and follow up to make sure the sales pitches have stopped.

What if the employee with a side hustle is your manager? I'm so sorry. Let's hope that buying their oils is not, in fact, essential to your career path at the company.

If you feel guilty turning down a work peer's side hustle, then think of it this way: this co-worker accessed your workplace proximity and friendship to pitch a product line, so you can raise your backbone to say "no" if that is what you want to do. By the way, the skin around your backbone looks a bit dry. Which products are you using? Good luck out there.

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