Overemployment refers to professionals juggling two – or more – jobs, usually full-time. While balancing a regular 9-to-5 position with some minor gigs is nothing unusual, especially in the creative area, combining two regular jobs is something relatively new.
The problem hit the wider public conscience after the pandemic started, sending hundreds of thousands of employees to work from home. The increasing problem was noticed mostly among companies hiring IT professionals, who, working remotely, started cooperating with more than one entity full-time.
But how is this even possible? The IT industry is very specific when it comes to the relation between active work time and final results. Unlike, for example, the carpentry where hacking, sawing, and splitting wood takes always a certain time for predictable, repeatable results. Or cooking – setting 3 ovens simultaneously won’t make the turkey ready in 3 times shorter time, and no other hack will significantly cut the processing time. What we’re saying is that there are expected time ranges for specific activities (which we use while estimating projects). However, developers sometimes lose sleep over a missed comma in the code, while on the other hand, sometimes solving complex problems requires relatively little input.
And this is where the problem in question arises. Developers, working remotely, can save up spare time that they don’t spend on watching movies or playing table football. Instead, they find another full-time job. No one would ever notice, since all work is carried out remotely, right?
What are the risks of overemployment?
Companies strive to avoid overemployment due to emerging threats to their operations:
On the employee side, balancing double the workload (especially when there are more demanding, time-consuming tasks) can easily lead to burnout, excessive stress, and fatigue.
A full-time employee that doesn’t deliver the agreed and expected results can be a threat to project outcomes, endangering companies’ interests.
Companies that struggle to complete assigned work incur damage to their reputation.
If one employee gets away with permanent overemployment, why wouldn’t the other team members eventually try to do the same? Consenting to such behavior can cause an avalanche of further inefficiency in daily operations.
Overemployment is an indirect loss for the company. Knowing that employees can be so resourceful and efficient, the team could have twice the work done within the time the developer is paid for.
How to recognize overemployment?
The clues are noticeable, however, they don’t always necessarily need to indicate employees working 2 (or more!) full-time jobs. Companies that established and put to good use their processes are less likely to suffer from overemployment. During sprint planning, work is divided between team members who take responsibility for delivering estimated results. After each sprint, the outcome is assessed. The teams’ objective is achievable through joint efforts, and a one-time or occasional mis-delivery can be forgiven, just like a sporadic unrealistic estimation, but it’s a major red flag once it becomes a tendency.
Sure thing, a job contract, even a full-time, permanent one, isn’t the same kind of obligation as e.g. marriage. Employees don’t marry their bosses or teammates (well, at least not as a general rule, and who are we to judge). That doesn’t mean that the mutual relationship doesn’t entail some commitment. It’s also about being fair to each other and avoiding cheating. When the dedication to performed tasks decreases, the reason behind it should be identified. The problems may be temporary and caused by some external factors, but a prolonged disruption to work efficiency is alarming.
Coming late to every team meeting? Always leaving the daily meetup earlier? Oftentimes troubles with adjusting to the company’s daily schedule may indicate regular obligations elsewhere. However, it could also be due to a talent issue, as maybe your staff needs more time to complete their work. And while hiring top-tier talent is easy if you use the right recruitment tools, you should look for patterns, not one sign, that your employees may be moonlighting. Maybe timeliness could be an issue of too many meetings, meetings that take place at inopportune times, or contractual issues (i.e., they aren’t required to attend meetings).
Sometimes, everyone encounters obstacles in their work. Usually, the problems are solved right away by cooperation within the team. Continued disruptions caused by minor technical issues that are easy to fix can show the approach of the employee in question. For example, a team member regularly reporting troubles with completing a task doesn’t specify what the issue is resulting from. After a brief inquiry, it appears that the developer lacked access to a critical resource without which the work couldn’t be completed. Instead of notifying the project manager and requesting access, the employee continued to hide behind the problem and slacked in their work. In other cases, the smarty pants individual reports problems just for the sake of doing so but doesn’t seek help with resolving the issue. Or even rejects offered help from teammates and PMs.
What we’re saying is that some above occurrences may happen due to other causes. Let’s say, the team always meets for the daily stand first thing in the morning, at some un-divine time like 8.00 AM. The developer in question is rather the night owl type or works from a different time zone. There’s no wonder they usually come in late and seem rather absent. Or the start of an afternoon meeting collides with the time their kids come back from school and require attention right here and now before the parent can go back to work. Our team members have their lives and quirks, and as long as there’s mutual understanding and these factors do not interfere with work (or can be counteracted, to an extent), we’re good.
How to prevent overemployment?
It’s a… you’ve guessed right! A process.
More precisely, in this case, it’s about how we work. Choosing the right candidates when building the team, estimating and scheduling in a rational manner, assuring motivation and mutual honesty. This may not be a bulletproof, 100% sure recipe for success, but that’s the best companies can do to proof their operations against smooth operators. When the team is tight-knit and dedicated to achieving common goals, the individual posing a threat to the objective and working two jobs on the sly will be quickly noticed.
We’re not saying that project managers need to keep notes on their team members’ preferred bedtimes, but, to an extent, knowing your team and their small quirks (like choosing to do some work at night for not getting up with the first rays of the sun), along with their time zones, leads to a better understanding of the teams’ performance.
Cooperation requires understanding. Despite times of fully remote work, modern tools allow effective communication, collaboration, and exchanging information. Project managers gather feedback from their teams, and when certain attitudes among team members are considered unacceptable in the long run, further steps can be taken.
While we’re all for transparency, which oftentimes requires some kind of task tracking and supervision to ensure smooth workflow, we shudder at the thought of micromanagement. Avoiding it, especially in times of fully remote work, sounds easier than it could actually be, but that’s again when the process steps in. “The eye of the master will do more work than both his hands”, as the saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin goes. In cases when there’s compelling circumstantial evidence an employee is playing both sides, paying particular attention to someone’s work is necessary. The clues being as above, a developer hanging around, working half-heartedly, and at the same time, denying it with strong force. That’s when micromanagement may be required.
As we mentioned in the beginning, there’s nothing wrong with full-time employees that like to do some extra side jobs, as long as their additional gigs don’t interfere with their core duties. What’s also important is the good practice of not engaging with the direct competition of the primary company (what is the common case in overemployment). We’re however highly convinced that agreeing to a position that entails full commitment in the traditional hour range should be associated with being fair with the company.
As a matter of fact, engaging in another full-time job and working half-heartedly (there’s another phrase for that that we’d like to use but it might be a little too much, let’s just hope you know what we mean) is not better than just slacking off during working hours by spending days on social media, playing video games, or watching movies. Such an attitude is a calculated risk of remote work and a growing problem in the industry, that we’re prepared to address.
Our team is as remote as they wish to and hard-working, so if you’re looking for a digital partner to make your product bloom, let us know. If you’d like to talk about what we can do for you, book your one-hour free consultation, and let’s see where it takes us.