Working Two Jobs From Home

Some remote employees are working hard. Some are hardly working.

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“This work” by mohamed hassan is in the Public Domain, CC0

When I saw the WSJ headline “These People Who Work From Home Have a Secret: They Have Two Jobs,” I was expecting something about how hard it is to balance the demands of online work with those of the household, whether childcare or other responsibilities. But, no. They mean it literally.

A small, dedicated group of white-collar workers, in industries from tech to banking to insurance, say they have found a way to double their pay: Work two full-time remote jobs, don’t tell anyone and, for the most part, don’t do too much work, either.

Alone in their home offices, they toggle between two laptops. They play “Tetris” with their calendars, trying to dodge endless meetings. Sometimes they log on to two meetings at once. They use paid time off—in some cases, unlimited—to juggle the occasional big project or ramp up at a new gig. Many say they don’t work more than 40 hours a week for both jobs combined. They don’t apologize for taking advantage of a system they feel has taken advantage of them.

Now, this is all anecdotal. How many people, exactly, are doing this is never made clear. Apparently, the practice is being encouraged and facilitated by a website of which I’d never previously heard:

He was emboldened by a new website called Overemployed. Started by two tech workers this spring, it aims to rally workers around the concept of stealthily holding multiple jobs, framing it as a way to wrest back control after decades of stalled wages for some and a pandemic that led to unpredictable layoffs.

Gig work and outsourcing have been on the rise for years. Inflation is now ticking up, chipping away at spending power. Some employees in white-collar fields wonder why they should bother spending time building a career.

“The harder that you work, it seems like the less you get,” one of the workers with two jobs says. “People depend on you more. My paycheck is the same.”

So, the rationale here strikes me as mostly bullshit. Or at least misplaced. That is, the sectors which have experienced “decades of stalled wages” are, for the most part, not those that were able to shift to remote work during the pandemic. Nor are they part of the “gig economy.” Indeed, by definition, jobs that provide full-time wages aren’t “gigs” and those who hire gig workers fully expect that they’re cobbling together an income from multiple employers.

This article is based on conversations with a half-dozen workers who have secretly worked multiple full-time jobs, as employees and contractors, during the pandemic. The workers spoke anonymously for fear of being fired or not being able to pull off the arrangement again. The approach doesn’t violate federal or state laws, according to employment lawyers, but it could represent a breach of contract or raise issues around confidentiality. And it could certainly result in an employee’s termination.

So, again, there is zero indication here of whether this is an incredibly niche practice or representative of some meaningful tranche of the workforce. To the extent it’s the latter, I’m of mixed minds as to how to think about it.

On the one hand, it seems like theft. Representing oneself as doing full-time work while actually working for someone else is dishonest. Further, it gives managers yet more reason to either curtail remote work altogether or place more intrusive monitoring structures on it. That’s bad for everyone involved.

On the other hand, office work should be outputs-based, not inputs-based. So, to the extent these people are meeting management expectations for full-time employment while working part-time, it’s hard to see the harm.

Further, to the extent that white-collar workers are doing creative tasks, “full-time” is almost a meaningless concept. Most readers of this blog do so during “working” hours. Are they stealing from their employers by doing so? Or is it simply a necessary distraction that actually makes them more productive in the longer run?

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    This reminds me of this story back in 2013.

    U.S. programmer outsources own job to China, surfs cat videos

    Call it an amazing example of entrepreneurship or a daring play of deceit.

    After a U.S.-based “critical infrastructure” company discovered in 2012 its computer systems were being accessed from China, its security personnel caught the culprit ultimately responsible: Not a hacker from the Middle Kingdom but one of the company’s own employees sitting right at his desk in the United States.

    Bob had hired a programming firm in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang to do his work. His helpers half a world away worked overnight on a schedule imitating an average 9-to-5 workday in the United States. He paid them one-fifth of his six-figure salary, according to Verizon.

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  2. de stijl says:

    Seriously bad article for WSJ. Vanishingly small anecdata blown up. Click bait.

    Six people?

    If their managers managed and paid attention it would become clear soon.

    This is a story about bad about inadequate supervision and control practices.

    For six fucking people.

    Click bait bullshit.

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  3. de stijl says:

    @Scott:

    I appreciate that dude’s moxie! Work smart is my motto.

    There are concerns that will take your money in escrow to get MMO gold or XP or level ups or rare loot.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @de stijl:

    Six people?

    So, no. As noted at least twice in the OP, they don’t give us any idea of the scope of the problem. But they found six people, presumably via the site in question, who were willing to talk to them in depth, share pay stubs, and otherwise provide concrete evidence of what they were doing. This is almost certainly much more than “six people.”

    But even if it’s 6000—or 60,000—it’s a pretty small problem. If it’s 600,000—or 6 million—it’s a much bigger problem. But the reporting gives us no way to know that, presumably because they have no idea of the scale.

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  5. KM says:

    What is “full time”? If you are salaried, it could be 80 hours a week with that over 40 uncompensated. A lot of salaried workers essentially work 2 jobs for the pay of one but it’s not framed as stealing from the employee; you “agreed” to that for a higher wage but somehow it never equals out at the end of year to the employees finicial benefit.

    As long as you are getting your work done, working more than one full time job is fair to the employer. Avoiding pointless meetings does everyone a favor since they are time killers; get 40 hours of work done in less should be celebrated, not treated as theft or nefarious effort.

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  6. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    If it’s 600,000—or 6 million—it’s a much bigger problem.

    Is it a problem? If they are getting the work done, I don’t see it as a problem.

    There might be a problem with management setting expectations too low, but that’s a different problem.

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  7. David S. says:

    Eh. It’s just another FIRE fad that WSJ is signal-boosting because the sentiment supports being anti-worker and it’s also pandemic-linked.

    It’s telling that he doesn’t reveal his legal name, but is planning to publish a book, which you can preorder… by sending money via PayPal.

    And also that his top published success story admits to a conflict of interest between two of his management jobs. Classy.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    There might be a problem with management setting expectations too low, but that’s a different problem.

    While I acknowledge that in the OP, it’s made more complicated by the ethics of the pandemic. Many employers have bent over backward to accommodate the fact that so many people working from home had to do double-duty as schoolteachers, daycare providers, etc. and that it’s much harder to get work done. So, people have been given a lot of slack based on trust.

  9. Jen says:

    A few months ago, a friend posted something on Facebook and in the conversation that ensued below, one of his friends–a woman I know somewhat because she’s sort of in the same field as me–noted that her fiancee was working two full-time jobs this way.

    I pointed out that in every job I’ve ever had as an employee (rather than self-employed), there has been a written employee handbook/code that establishes expectations for employment at a company, and in every single one of them there has been a provision about additional employment.

    I’d wager that a lot of these people are in violation of some kind of code about outside work, and if found out the employer could probably sue them to recover wages.

  10. de stijl says:

    The more I think about this more it pisses me off.

    Unwarranted anti-worker agit prop. From WSJ, golly!