How Seth Meyers keeps his staff from resenting him

Only raises free-range employees.
Only raises free-range employees.
Image: AP/Invision/Richard Shotwell
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Seth Meyers, the host of NBC’s Late Night With Seth Meyers and a Saturday Night Live alum, manages his staff of writers with a rare kind of generosity when it comes to their side gigs.

On Hello Monday, a new podcast by LinkedIn, Meyers says he is supportive of staff who want to take on outside projects, as in, launch another show or otherwise stretch their talents beyond the day-to-day requirements of the Late Night writing room. His backing goes beyond giving his blessing, and extends to helping with pitches and offering references.

One reason to be supportive of the side projects: employee morale. “I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t resent us if you felt like we were giving you a job but it wasn’t the one you dreamed of … and it was also, you know, stopping you from pursuing that,” he tells Hello Monday host Jessi Hempel, a senior editor at LinkedIn.

Letting staff know they have the space to do their own thing also helps him hang onto talented people. He says he tells writers who have an idea for a new show, for example, “[W]e will happily help you pitch it. If you want to go try to sell the show to a network, we’ll go in the room with you, and we will sing your praises and talk about what a talent you are. Then you can develop that show while you’re still working here.”

Already, Late Night has helped to launch the standup career of comedian Michelle Wolf; it gave her a spot in a television writing room and was the first late-night show to put her on air. She later worked as a writer and on-air contributor to The Daily Show With Trevor Noah on Comedy Central.

The people who leave often “pay it forward” by eventually hiring other Late Night employees or contacts, Meyers says. “You’re constantly, you know, creating this sort of Rolodex of talent the longer you work in this business,” he says, “and you try to be able to pull from that whenever you can.” (Our prediction: The next member of Meyers’ staff to make a name for herself with a breakout project will be Amber Ruffin, star of the “Amber Says What” and “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” segments on Late Night.)

The idea of employers supporting employees’ side projects isn’t new, but typically it’s in service of philanthropy, if not the company itself. Google, for example, long discussed its “20% time” policy, which urged employees to use one-fifth of their time to develop an idea that would make Google better. (Google News, Gmail, Google Talk, and Adsense were all invented as 20% time pursuits.) And in 2008, IBM launched a Corporate Volunteer Corps, matching hundreds of mathematicians and data scientists annually with organizations tackling the world’s biggest problems, like human trafficking or climate change, and sending employees around the world to work with research groups and NGOs. That arrangement—and others that support employees in their community development or philanthropic goals—are found to boost employee engagement.

But there have been fewer examples of how companies are encouraging, or at least putting up with, the rise of the millennial side hustle as more young professionals—whether spurred on by their own creative urges or by the new possibilities opened up by technology and the gig economy—seem to be working on projects untied to their day jobs.

“We do feel like that makes the people who work here happier to know that, you know, it’s not a cage,” Meyers said on Hello Monday’s debut episode, adding for clarity: “It is. But the door’s up.”

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the correct title of LinkedIn’s new podcast. It’s Hello Monday, not Happy Monday.