Overemployment: Genius Hack or Unethical Practice?

· 5 min read
Overemployment: Genius Hack or Unethical Practice?

Santiago Valdarrama shared a story on Twitter yesterdat about an employee he had to let go. The employee was secretly working two full-time jobs at the same time. Santiago had interviewed and hired a sharp and qualified person for the role. However, after two weeks, Santiago noticed some red flags. The employee never turned on his camera during meetings. He often asked for questions to be repeated. He seemed evasive when Santiago met with him.

Around this time, Santiago learned about a recent trend — people working multiple full-time jobs at once. Suspicious, Santiago asked the employee for a reference from his previous job as a routine check. The employee got defensive and tried to delay giving any references. When confronted again, the employee finally admitted he had never quit his other full-time job. He was doing both jobs simultaneously.

Santiago felt cheated, having rejected other good candidates to hire this person. After about three weeks, he asked for the employee’s resignation. Santiago was not as concerned about the money lost. He mainly had to restart the difficult hiring process, which was frustrating. The experience was painful, though Santiago does not blame people working more than one full-time job in general. Apparently, thousands do this.

A New Trend: Overemployment

Santiago learned about a new work trend called overemployment. It’s when someone secretly works two or more full-time remote jobs simultaneously. This has gotten popular lately as remote work rises. Employees can now work flexibly and juggle multiple jobs without their bosses knowing.

A ResumeBuilder study found 79% of remote workers surveyed had been overemployed in the past year. A Fortune report said nearly half of all workers hold more than one full-time job. Many people do this to gain new skills, more money, and financial freedom.

The trend raises issues. Working 80+ hours a week can hurt work-life balance and cause burnout. Also, some see it as unethical to collect multiple full-time salaries. But others view it as a logical strategy in uncertain times.

Overall, the trend challenges traditional ideas about work and productivity. Companies will likely need to adapt their policies to address overemployment’s growth. The work world continues rapidly evolving.

The Unethical Aspects of Overemployment

This issue has come up more in recent years. We once had to let go of an unproductive new hire. A friend running a business shared he’d faced the same — that person worked multiple jobs. Another friend of mine argued for in-office work to prevent remote “overemployment.”

I see ethical problems with the overemployment trend. When I was a remote contractor, I often juggled projects and side gigs while holding a full-time job. But I never hid having two full-time roles or lied about doing any work on the side.

One could argue the employee in Santiago’s story was transparent when confronted. But it still feels questionable. I’d want upfront disclosure of any additional jobs. This would inevitably be discovered and break trust. Omitting facts here suggests more may be concealed.

The cheating includes secretly overloading yourself with full-time positions to the point of seriously degraded performance on every job. Folks in the /r/overemployed community on Reddit admit reduced productivity and fear of being caught. They share tips to avoid detection and fake productivity.

Does Returning to the Office Fix the Problem?

The natural instinct for an employer would be to prevent this behavior by requiring employees to work from the office. Big tech companies may be pushing return-to-office policies for this reason. However, any system of rules can be circumvented. Employees could use company equipment to work a second job or use their own devices and a cellular modem.

If you’ve involved legal counsel and added appropriate clauses to employment contracts, unethical behavior becomes riskier and may have legal repercussions. But even so, how do you know what else dishonest employees might come up with? Contracts can’t cover everything, and some things aren’t enforceable.

If you start going down this path, you may feel compelled to tighten control further. You could need to restrict employee device use, monitor activities randomly, and track mouse movements — tactics many companies already employ. As I’ve seen at some unhappy workplaces, you may even need to closely monitor break times and bathroom trips.

While protecting business interests is understandable, over-monitoring creates quite a hostile culture. It’s better to foster an ethical environment through open communication, reasonable policies, and leading by example. Employees who feel trusted and valued will be more loyal. There are always trade-offs, but culture matters.

Fix Failures in Hiring and Management to Prevent Overemployment

Honestly, employers cannot entirely eliminate this behavior by requiring office work. Local hiring also makes finding the right talent much more challenging and expensive — likely why salaries in places like the Bay Area are so high.

If someone can do this in a company, it means HR isn’t doing its job well. Small companies without HR and large companies where it’s hard to track everyone seems most at risk.

I don’t think talented people building a serious career would try this. The “overemployed” don’t stay long — they get discovered and fired eventually. Employers are getting better at kicking out unproductive people faster now. So, rigorous interviews and reference checks are essential. Hiring people who spend less than 6–12 months in a role is risky and requires extra diligence. HR needs to tell future employers about the behavior when firing these people.

Regular performance reviews from leads, managers, and peers are also critical. If someone underperforms long-term, it’s a bad sign regardless. But we often make excuses to keep people. Knowing about overemployment should make HR and managers more aggressive with firing. This, unfortunately, hurts good employees having rough patches. So be careful — if a longtime employee gets sick and struggles, it may be best not to let them go.

Overemployment is a Result of Rapid Growth

The tech sector has grown rapidly in recent years. Many people enter the industry annually. As a result, an engineer with just one year of experience may feel they have a mid-level skill set. Someone working for three years is often considered a senior engineer. This pattern also occurs with managers — people working a few years oversee large engineering teams, as there’s no one else for the role.

So, inexperienced managers hire and manage inexperienced engineers. Everyone attends meetings, drinks smoothies, and misses the issues since they lack the experience to identify poor performance. This hurts businesses, as money is spent, but little gets done. Things suffer so much more if half the staff holds a second job!

I’m okay with side gigs or freelancing. Actually, I tell my team I fully support it. That said, if you are doing it, we should talk. That likely means I need to do my job better. Maybe you’re underpaid, unengaged in your work, or not growing how you want.

The issue isn’t about side gigs. It’s not being upfront about your intentions. And stealing productivity from your employer.

Originally published on Medium.com