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What is overemployment and how should companies be handling it?

Have you heard of employees having two or more full-time jobs? That's overemployment and here's everything you need to know about it.
Published 31 Oct 2022
Updated 23 Nov 2022
11 min read
Guy seated at his working desk at home with 2 laptops and 1 monitor

So you’ve probably heard of the Great Resignation, quiet quitting, quiet firing, anti-work, and four day work weeks… But have you heard of ‘overemployment’? Let’s get you up to date with the latest buzzword.

How many jobs do you hold currently? One? Two? Or four full-time jobs with a whopping combined annual salary of US$680,000(~$1.06million AUD)?

Side hustles aren’t new — I’m sure many of you have family and friends in your circle who work a full-time job but make some extra cash through their passions and hobbies. With stagnating wages, rising cost of living and high inflation rates, it’s no surprise that many are looking for ways to earn additional income outside of their primary role.

In fact, our Remote Work Report 2022 found that more than half of knowledge workers surveyed across four regions have a secondary income stream — 51% in Australia, 51% in New Zealand, 56% in Singapore and 66% in Malaysia.

The difference however, is that while most knowledge workers are building secondary sources of income through investments in stocks or properties, business ventures or secondary part-time jobs, some folks are taking it to a whole new level. And by that, we mean committing to two or more simultaneous 9-to-5 full-time jobs.

It may sound crazy, but it sure isn’t impossible — plenty have shared their success stories and plenty more are jumping on the bandwagon.

So, what is the overemployment movement?

It isn’t a completely new concept and has been an open secret, especially in the tech industry, for years. But the pandemic, which accelerated the rise of remote work, has made it easier than ever for individuals to juggle multiple roles.

Overemployment, also known as moonlighting, refers to individuals that work two or more full-time jobs without their employers finding out about the others. It’s much more common in fully remote roles, and task-based jobs such as software development or computer programming.

In the privacy of their home offices, employees can work as flexibly as they want to, jumping in and out of meetings, declining meetings, or scheduling multiple interviews with other companies — all under the radar.

There’s a growing community out there led by a man known only as ‘Isaac’, the founder of the overemployed movement. He openly shares his story of how he went from being passed over for a promotion to working two full-time jobs at once. It struck him like an epiphany — why should he slog so hard at one job without any reward or recognition, when he could be mediocre at two jobs with double the salary?

He prides overemployment as a way to earn extra income, achieve financial freedom, be free from office politics and layoffs, and improve mental health. And you’ll be surprised at how many working professionals have joined the movement or are keen to learn more about it — the overemployed subreddit has 109k members and counting, alongside a Discord server where members share tips and tricks on keeping their overemployment journey going.

How do people become overemployed (and get away with it)?

Guy seated at his work from home desk with one monitor and two laptops

There are three main reasons employees have turned to overemployment: they are either disillusioned with their corporate lives, have a very lucrative job offer that they find hard to reject, or have a very concrete financial goal in mind — be it early retirement or buying a house.

Some employees who work incredibly efficiently and manage to finish all their tasks in record time have also turned to overemployment because they started wondering — what should they do with all their extra time? Why not use it to make even more money, or pursue a different field they’ve always been interested in?

As they start out and quickly get the hang of leading double, triple, or even quadruple professional lives alongside helpful tips from the community, they become more and more comfortable with overemployment. The satisfaction they get from multiple paychecks is also extremely rewarding and makes everything worth it. Take it from this computer engineer working two full-time jobs — he says: “every other Friday, when those paychecks drop, I am reinvigorated.”

If you were ever wondering how they get away with it, here’s how.

Lining up multiple offers

Because overemployment entails constant stress and fear of getting caught, most employees are prepared to lose any one of their multiple jobs at any given time. They continue going for virtual interviews every month so they have a steady supply of replacement roles available — this provides them with a fallback in case they’ve been exposed. They can instantly jump into another role once the current one is compromised.

Each job is referenced as ‘J1’, ‘J2’, ‘J3’ and so forth. If they’ve accepted multiple offers within the same week, they generally try to stagger their onboarding dates so it doesn’t clash. It’s difficult trying to wrap your head around two new companies at the same time, and definitely not recommended.

Overemployed veterans also advise against working for startups — they expect too much work. Larger organisations that allow remote work make it easier for them to not blow their cover.

Dealing with overlapping meetings

Gif of Oprah pointing in different directions

When they’re dealing with more than one full-time job, chances are, their meetings will overlap. So what do they do to avoid that? Many turn to various excuses to reschedule, drop in and out of meetings, or generally get away with it because they only have to be active in one while listening in on the other.

If two meetings clash, some people like Abel attend both with two separate headphones. He processes both streams of information at the same time, and pays loose attention to both, tuning in if he hears his name mentioned. If there’s ever a delay, he uses the excuse of a bad connection.

Others deal with diary clashes by declining certain meetings, or saying that they prefer to resolve it over Slack because it’s more convenient and efficient that way. Somehow that excuse always works — everyone loves it when something can be resolved without a meeting. Alternatively, saying that they really need head-down-focus-time to finish another deliverable has been found to work too.

In other cases like this woman in Atlanta, she’s even hired a personal assistant to sit in on calls when she is double-booked, and alert her if she is needed in a meeting. The overemployed website also has a detailed article on strategies to use when managing conflicting meetings.

Linkedin profile management

How does someone who’s overemployed manage their Linkedin profile? Which jobs do they choose to show and which ones are hidden? I’m sure you’re curious to find out!

The truth is, people in the community either make their accounts private after accepting a job offer, or hibernate their accounts. They use reasons such as ‘being hounded by recruiters’ to avoid having an active Linkedin profile, or getting tagged in Linkedin posts by their current companies.

Not everyone promptly updates their Linkedin profile as soon as they switch jobs too, so it doesn’t raise an alarm when someone’s profile appears outdated. Once again, the overemployed community has covered Linkedin management tips too.

Be adequate, not great

GIF of a scene from Severance

The entire premise of overemployment is doing the bare minimum to not get fired, but also not to shine too overtly so there’s constant attention on you. When the overemployed are churning out good work, there’s no reason for anyone higher up to be unhappy with their performance, and it enables them to hold onto that extra job much longer.

Some of the overemployed are actually complete opposites of anti-work or quiet quitters — they’re eager hustlers who want to work smart and get the most financial gain they can possibly earn out of it. They’ve also discovered some of the most creative ways of highlighting their contributions and achievements so the rest of the company can see their work tangibly.

Some top tips include:

  • Sending out a P-P-P weekly recap either via email or during a 1:1 meeting (which stands for progress, problems and plans)
  • Keeping a ‘brag sheet’ of everything noteworthy they’ve accomplished, along with any positive feedback they’ve received regarding it — it comes in handy during appraisals

What are some potential ‘red flag’ behaviours that employers have identified?

GIF of a woman saying 'are there any red flags I'm missing?'

As overemployed employees generally do skilled, complicated work that is not subjected to micromanaging or constant monitoring, it can be difficult for organisations to accurately detect cases of overemployment.

Nevertheless, Canopy CEO Davis Bell has shared some ‘red flag’ behaviours that employers should watch out for. He also mentioned that although none of them indicate a problem when looked at individually, together they may indicate overemployment.

Signs include:

  • Making their LinkedIn profile private upon accepting a job offer, rather than updating it to reflect that they work at <insert new company>
  • Not signing up for employee benefits
  • Turning their camera off in meetings all the time
  • Slow response times on Slack and email
  • Frequently late to or absent for meetings with no explanation
  • Worked for very large companies previously, where it may be easier to coast through work and hide inactivity

How have business leaders reacted to the overemployment trend?

Multiple business owners have openly voiced their displeasure with overemployment:

Companies like Equifax, Wipro or Canopy have also promptly fired employees after discovering their hidden, multiple corporate lives.

Phoebe from Friends saying 'You're fired!'

Their stance is completely understandable — after all, how can employees possibly contribute 100% to multiple full-time roles at the same time? Unsurprisingly, overemployment is also very controversial because apart from contractual obligations, employees are essentially lying to their employers and their coworkers.

Not only are they taking jobs away from someone else who could have filled the position, they may also be affecting managers and colleagues negatively when they aren’t pulling their weight in the team with project deadlines and deliverables.

On the other hand, there have been business leaders who have voiced their support for overemployment — but on the premise of several conditions. CEO of IT services and consulting company Tech Mahindra, C.P. Gurnani, says he has no objection to his employees taking second jobs, provided they are open about it, and meet productivity and efficiency norms.

Jonathan Saeidian, founder and CEO of Brenton Way, a Los Angeles-based digital marketing agency, said he wouldn’t fire employees if they were found to be overemployed — as long as they do what is expected of them correctly and efficiently. However, if their other job comes into conflict with their job in his company, they will have to prioritise his company or be forced to make a hard choice.

Rob Reeves, CEO of Redfish Technology, a Silicon Valley recruiting firm, unwittingly discovered the fact that one of his new marketing hires never left his previous job at a high-profile brand. Despite previously considering such behaviour a cause for automatic firing, he’s since changed his mind about overemployment after finding out that his employee is actually juggling both jobs remarkably.

Now, he believes that, “If your employee is able to meet the needs of two companies at once, maybe he’s a talent worth holding onto!”

How should employers deal with the overemployment trend?

If you caught your employee working multiple full-time jobs — what would you do? Would your first instinct be to fire them immediately?

Technically, employees aren’t doing something illegal if they haven’t signed a non-compete agreement or exclusivity contract. But of course, some business leaders would strongly disapprove, especially if holding multiple full-time jobs means employees are performing poorly. Because this sudden surge in overemployment is relatively new, there’s still much to be discovered regarding the best way to prevent it or monitor it.

Implementing clear and transparent policies

For companies who would like to discourage employees from overemployment, implementing internal policies regarding this topic would be beneficial. It makes a clear and strong statement about the company’s stance, and also ensures transparency across the organisation.

It can be useful to set intellectual property protection standards, bring in non-compete or non-disclosure agreements, and reiterate the expectations and responsibilities employees are held accountable for — so they will be dissuaded from pursuing other full-time jobs.

Create a clear and conditional approval process

For companies who are more flexible and open-minded regarding overemployment, consider creating an external employment policy with a clear approval process, and conditions that need to be met in order to gain approval. This would encourage employees to openly disclose and seek approval from their ‘main company’ before pursuing additional sources of income.

You could also implement a regular review process to monitor and reflect on their performance levels over the past quarter or year, to ensure that their productivity and efficiency in producing deliverables hasn’t been compromised with the additional role they’ve taken on.

Address the underlying reasons behind overemployment

More importantly, companies should be addressing the main reasons driving employees away from their current role. Is it the working environment? The lack of career opportunities or coaching? Stagnant salaries and being overlooked for promotions?

No one wants to be working for an organisation that cares little for personal growth and development. And certainly no employee wants to be overworked and underpaid. If your company is experiencing a high turnover rate, low output levels or poor employee morale, it’s probably time to step back and reflect.

There are so many ways you can upskill your workforce for the next decade, and keep your employees motivated and engaged by creating clear learning and career pathways.

And because a huge motivation for overemployment is gaining multiple sources of income, it’s crucial to ensure you’re offering your employees competitive salaries and benefits, as well as regular progression (if they are deserving of it of course). If they’re happy where they are, there’s no reason for them to go looking for more!

Besides, overemployment is stressful and unsustainable for a large majority in the long run — only a very small percentage successfully maintain their double or triple dipping effectively. Employees are turning to overemployment as a way out of poverty, debt, or financial pressures, but really, who wants to be stretched that thin and have to sneak around their jobs?

Another thing to consider — how strong is your employee value proposition (EVP)? An EVP is tangible, it attracts job candidates and top talent to your business and ensures that your people stay! It also makes you stand out against competitors and shows that you care about your employees, which gives them less reason to be looking for opportunities elsewhere.

The wrap up

Ultimately, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, given that each employee approaches overemployment differently too. Whilst some may capitalise on paid leave and do the bare minimum to coast through months of paychecks, others are adeptly balancing and managing the responsibilities of dual roles. It’s best to utilise the tips we’ve given above, and evaluate each one on a case-by-case basis. There’s no right or wrong answer here — it’s all about how you manage the situation. We say it’s best to focus on output over hours.

An all-in-one HR and payroll platform like Employment Hero helps you combat overemployment in so many ways. Strengthen your EVP with management tools, learning pathways, and benefits on the platform. You can also get new hires to digitally sign non-compete agreements alongside employment contracts and other policies, anywhere and anytime.

Give consistent feedback, design custom performance reviews, and make 1:1 meetings more effective with structured questions, coaching, and digital records of what’s been discussed. There’s also reward and recognition features so no hard work goes unnoticed.

Want an organisation-wide check in on how engaged employees are? Run a happiness survey and receive valuable feedback anonymously. You can also easily create and edit detailed reports in just a few clicks — to empower strategic decisions based on valuable company data and people analytics.

Build a workplace culture like no other (especially if you’re a remote-first business), so you create loyalty now and for years to come. Download the Remote First Workplace Playbook today.

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