Working Two Jobs From Home
Some remote employees are working hard. Some are hardly working.
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?