Due to societal and technological changes, more people are turning their hobbies into jobs. These hobby-workers are deeply identified with their vocation, which provides them with higher professional satisfaction and meaning than they would get from a traditional career. This same identification, however, exposes them to risks that they have not necessarily foreseen at the time of their decision. Low level of variety in the hobby-job, additional constraints associated with self-employment, and getting less restorative benefits from their former hobby might lead the individual to emotional exhaustion and burnout. These risks, if dangerous to the well being of the individual, are well understood and can be mitigated in ways that ensure the hobby-worker will realize his or her expectation of deeper professional satisfaction, efficacy, and meaning. New research, however, is required to better understand and mitigate additional hobby-jobs risks related to social anxiety and the overjustification effect.
Professional satisfaction and risks of burnout in hobby-jobs.
Due to societal, technological, and working environment changes in Western societies, people have to work past retirement age or pursue different careers during their professional life. Traditional career paths are becoming increasingly an exception as shown by Americans holding on average 12 different jobs during their working life (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). This trend is likely to accelerate as digitalization and robotization will continue to profoundly change the way work is being provided to society.
In that context, an increasing number of people decide to turn their hobby into a career, a phenomenon called “hobby-job”, with yoga instructors, photographers, gamers, or coffee-bar owners, as popular examples.
These people vary greatly from one to another and they range from the professionally skilled (early)-retired individual who becomes a painter to the student who has never worked and takes on professional video gaming. In between, there are many people facing redundancy, unemployment, or being successfully employed but having become disenchanted with their work. Despite their differences, these people are seeking to earn some money while being deeply satisfied with what they do professionally as well as deepening their competence and skill levels.
We define, here, a hobby as a leisure activity that one does regularly for pleasure, so the idea of being paid for something that one loves doing for no financial rewards seems to be an irresistible proposition, the holy grail to reconcile the world of work with the world of pleasure.
If this idea might seem “too good to be true”, it is regularly portrayed in the media with successful stories, such as for example a promising and ambitious IT Google employee deciding to become a professional dancer (Biz2Credit, 2006). These stories capture the imagination and shape the public opinion but they remain anecdotal and people tend to have a partial and limited understanding of what they entail as only success stories are shared with them.
It seems, therefore, important to the author to validate or invalidate these perceptions, as more people will consider this option in the future. Hence, the aim of this paper, by reviewing existing research and literature, is to objectively assess if there are any risks and downsides associated with hobby-jobs? The author will explore what these risks are, what might be the underlying causes, and discuss the practical implications for individuals considering this type of career.
Hobby-jobs provide more professional satisfaction than traditional careers.
There is presently a lack of research on the phenomenon of hobby-jobs, however, the concept of “callings” and “passion” in the context of work has been more researched. These studies find that people in a wide range of work situations are increasingly not only looking for a job but also for a calling (Berg, Grant, & Johnson, 2010) or passion at work (McAllister, Harris, Hochwarter, Perrewe, & Ferris, 2017). The motivation for doing so is to pursue a career, which is intrinsically enjoyable, meaningful, and a central part of the individual’s identity. In the view of the author, the motivation of a hobby-worker is also related to doing an activity providing pleasure, satisfaction, and deep personal association with the work. Positive attributes of hobby-jobs can, therefore, be inferred from the more researched areas of passion at work and professional callings.
There is a clear measured positive correlation between work-passion and work satisfaction (McAlister et al., 2017). Conceptually, passion at work leads individuals to deliberately practice more; these additional time and energy commitments lead the individuals to increase their competences and move them towards mastering the activity. This combination of intrinsic motivation for doing the activity with the pleasure and satisfaction one sees in gaining mastery leads the individual to a virtuous circle of enjoying and becoming better and better at what he or she does. This is applicable for the hobby-jobs, as well, in the sense that the individual was already experiencing in the leisure activity this virtuous circle of satisfaction and competence. By turning the hobby into a job, the time and resources allocated to the leisure pursuit increase and the hypothesis is that hobby-workers receive more satisfaction than they would from a traditional career.
“Too much of a good thing is not a good thing”: the risks associated with a strong linkage between personal identity and work.
As shown in the previous section, the strong link between the identity of the individual and the work provides the benefit of increased job satisfaction and competence. This same association, however, represents a risk for the hobby-worker. In his or her personal identification with the activity, the individual is likely to set higher goals and objectives for one-self (Mc Alister et al., 2017) which might trigger the risk of not being able to perform at the expected level due to other constraints or resources limitation. In the case of the former hobby, the individual was mainly constrained by the time he or she could dedicate to the activity and therefore accept the limitation on competence attained. When the individual is released from this time constraint and spends more time in the hobby-job, the risk of additional obligations related to professionalizing the hobby might put the individual under stress.
This happens because hobby-workers are typically self-employed and they do not benefit from the organizational support systems that they might have enjoyed previously in a former career. These additional demands resulting in more time spent on “non-hobby” activities in the hobby-job bring additional stressors. These stressors, when not addressed, lead to a much-decreased professional satisfaction and ultimately to the risk of burnout (Volpone, Perry, & Rubino, 2013).
Main causes of specific potential stressors for hobby-workers.
Studies have reviewed the main additional stressors related to the specific nature of the hobby-jobs (Volpone et al., 2013) and they fall into four main categories.
A low level of variety in hobby-jobs is negatively correlated to emotional exhaustion and decreased professional efficacy. This risk would be very real for a yoga teacher teaching every day for the whole day the same yoga asana in the same order and sequence. This would soon lead to dissatisfaction and emotional burnout. Another example would be a type of professional video gamers, called “gold-farmers” (Lee & Lin, 2013), who are gaming for 12-14 hours a day collecting tradable virtual items. It is a very time-intensive low level of variety activity that exposes its workers to emotional exhaustion.
Constraints associated to the self-employed nature of hobby-jobs are positively correlated to emotional exhaustion and decreased professional efficacy. These constraints are related to the “peripheral” but essentials activities involved in managing a business such as accounting, sales, marketing, procurement, commercial contracting, and other activities. These tasks are often entirely new areas for the hobby-worker, and the individual has to spend time and energy to learn them and execute them satisfactorily to ensure the sustainability of the business. These new skills have to be learned and the demands of the business might be overwhelming and greatly taxing individuals’ emotional resources, robbing them from the initial pleasure in pursuing the hobby and leading them to burnout.
Risk of spending less time practicing the hobby since starting the hobby-job due to additional related activities such as sales for example results in reduced restorative and much-needed benefits from the hobby. Studies (Van de Vliert & Girodo, 1987) have shown the importance of the restorative function of a hobby to renew oneself and be able to maintain or increase professional efficacy. The lack of restorative activities (Winwwod, Bakker, & Winefield, 2007) is correlated to lower overall life satisfaction and poorer health outcomes. This risk is increased for the hobby-workers who when they are turning their pastime into a job, lose the restorative function of the hobby as they approach it differently and have different constraints in practicing it. At one extreme it can lead to self-exploitation as seen with professional gamers (Lee & Lin, 2013) playing for excessive hours every day and losing the relaxing benefits and restorative function of gaming.
Finally, there is the risk that the hobby-job is not being directly related to the hobby. For example, a golf player, who is unable to become a professional golfer, and decides to open a golf equipment shop falls into that category. The individual is associated with the leisure activity environment but is not practicing the original hobby in a professional context. Similarly, the “gold farmers” (Lee & Lin, 2013) are not seen and do not see themselves as professional gamers in the sense that they do not compete against each-others in online-competitions, they are players who make a living from collecting tradable items that other players who do not have time or skills to acquire, use for competing with other players. In these situations, the risk of dissatisfaction is higher in the sense that the “merely-related” hobby-worker might always envy the “true” professional and see himself or herself as a second-class citizen in the hobby-world.
As shown above, there are clear benefits for an individual to work in a hobby-job in terms of enjoyment, meaning, and competence. There are also hidden but serious risks of dissatisfaction, stress, and burnout. This is mainly due to the higher expectations the individuals are setting for themselves as they are more identified with the hobby-job. Additional constraints in running a business, self-exploitation, and losing the necessary restorative benefits of a hobby can lead to emotional exhaustion. These risks, when acknowledged and understood by the prospective hobby-worker, can, however, be mitigated.
By understanding what it means to be self-employed, prospective hobby-workers will better assess the resources and additional skills they need in order to maintain or deepen the satisfaction they have experienced in their former hobby.
Secondly, by understanding the importance of the hobby restorative functions, the hobby-worker could, for example, develop a new pleasure activity or continue to practice the former pastime in a non-professional context, as seen by “gold-farmers” (Lee & Lin, 2013) who after a day gaming for work, start gaming for fun and pleasure.
Two additional risks related to hobby-jobs, not covered in this paper, should also be further studied to assess how best they could be mitigated. The first one concerns the risk of not being taken socially seriously both by society as large and by the community of hobby practitioners. “Gold-farmer” for example are socially marginalized as for most people “work is not play” but they are also discriminated by hobby-gamers who do not find “fair” that “gold-farmers” should compete with them when collecting virtual items. This can lead the hobby-worker to social anxiety and decreased satisfaction (Lee & Lin, 2013).
The second risk is associated with the overjustification effect. Although it has been extensively studied, various studies have led to different conclusions as to whether extrinsic rewards decrease or increase intrinsic motivation and hence performance. A meta-study (Wiersma, 1992) concluded that intrinsic and extrinsic rewards on motivation are additive, but the question remains to know if this is the case for hobby-workers as for them and more than for any other workers, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are indistinguishably interwoven. Research on this topic could lead to interesting insights both for hobby-jobs and the overjustification effect.
If this paper confirms the positive effects hobby-jobs have on professional meaning, achievement, and pleasure for the individual, it also uncovers serious risks related to the same strong identification between the individual and his or her work. When considering this professional option, individuals should acknowledge and understand the associated risks. They should also develop strategies to mitigate these risks so that when they become hobby-workers they can fully realize and sustain their aspirations of leading a very satisfactory and meaningful professional life.
Taking into account the risks and benefits of hobby-jobs, the author concludes that it would be better for the aspiring hobby-workers not to follow their passion but to bring the passion they have in their hobby in everything they do, including their current professional life.
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