The Remote Work Hustle - How to Spot if Your Employee has Multiple Jobs

Remote work requires trust. Released from the requirement to be physically present in an office, employees have more freedom around how they manage their time, but that freedom often makes employers nervous, and, in some cases, with good reason. 

Without supervision, untrustworthy employees could be slacking off, not putting in their hours, or even working for someone else. 

The latter is becoming known as ‘overemployment’, and it’s a growing trend. Not satisfied with one income, remote workers are taking on multiple jobs at once to earn extra. Great for the employee, but not so great for their duped employer if they aren’t managing their time correctly. 

A fun side gig may be harmless in some cases but managers need to be alert to the possibility of reduced productivity from overemployment among their remote teams, identifying the warning signs and taking action as soon as possible.

Identifying overemployment

Given the rocky economic outlook, it’s understandable that employees would want to supplement their income in uncertain times. But overemployment isn’t just getting a side gig or doing a bit of freelance work now and then it involves actively seeking out full-time or part-time employment, without letting any of their employers know that they’re already committed elsewhere. For the scheme to succeed, employees typically need to be fully remote rather than hybrid. They may also work across different time zones, which gives them the flexibility they need to better cover their tracks.

There’s only so long workers can keep up this level of deception, however. If they’re on the lookout, astute managers should be able to quickly spot the obvious red flags.

They show signs of burnout

Working two or more jobs means more work, more pressure, and more stress. That gets exhausting pretty quickly. 

If your staff starts showing signs of burnout - fatigue, loss of concentration, changes in mood or behavior - without a corresponding rise in activity, you need to start asking questions. If they’re not getting burned out at your workplace, chances are they’re spending their mental energy somewhere else.

They’re distracted

If an employee is busy working two jobs at once, they’re giving half their attention to each. You may notice them being distracted over simple tasks they previously undertook without issue. As any good employer knows, an engaged, productive workforce is essential for success. 

Other signs include turning their microphone or camera off during meetings (so that they can get on with their other work), missing deadlines, and sudden dips in productivity.

They’re inaccessible

Does your employee miss meetings? Are they inexplicably unavailable during regular working hours? Have they dropped off your messaging platforms? Do they fail to respond promptly to email?

If someone else is taking up their time and attention, you’ll notice. And that’s your cue to start making inquiries.

How to handle overemployed workers

No-one likes being manipulated or lied to, but if you discover your employee has been working on the side you need to keep your cool.

Don’t fly off the handle and react in a rage. Instead, encourage them to be honest about why they felt the need to take on extra work. It’s not easy juggling multiple jobs. They may feel like they aren’t challenged enough and are afraid to ask for more responsibility. In most situations, these employees are desperate and take on more work as a last resort because they can’t pay their bills, they have family pressures, or they’re feeling buried under mounting debt.  

If that’s the case, you should be sensitive to these issues. Rather than dismissing them outright (an uninviting option given the current labor shortage), perhaps you can find a way forward. Especially if the employee hasn’t been working for someone else on your time, but rather putting in 14-hour days and working weekends to avoid any overlap. These days, many tools to monitor remote employees exist.  

Not every case of overemployment is the same. Your approach to each should take the individual circumstances into account - has your employee been working for a competitor? How much has their work suffered? How dishonest have they been to make sure they don’t get caught? Are they breaching their contractual obligations or company policies?

All these questions matter when deciding how to handle the hustle. Taking a nuanced approach, acting early, and starting a conversation can help. 

Overemployment is bad news for everyone on your team, forcing other colleagues to pick up the slack, eroding trust, and hindering productivity. The worst thing a manager can do is ignore the situation and hope it resolves itself. 

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