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Career polygamy: The new way to work

My daughter recently encountered a disturbing issue at her place of employment that I did not know was out there.

Jim Cross

She is the vice president of people operations at a tech startup. One of her employees suddenly stopped showing up to Zoom meetings and her work performance dropped dramatically. Until recently, she had done good work. The employee said her mother was ill and had received a terminal diagnosis. She requested a two-week personal leave. The request was granted, flowers and well wishes sent, and her pay continued.

The company’s suspicion arose when the employee returned for one day after the two-week personal leave, then abruptly resigned despite being offered continued support and additional personal leave. After further research, the company found that the employee had been working full time for several other companies as well. She had been juggling the demands, meetings and travel of all of these jobs without revealing this to anyone. She had clearly been lying about her mother’s illness.

The pandemic and the work-from-home change has allowed and even fostered this new form of employment for some white-collar workers in technology, banking and insurance. This employee could never have gotten away with this charade if she had been expected to physically be in the office every day. These individuals can be pulling in $200,000 to $600,000 a year, including bonuses and stock, and they don’t apologize for taking advantage of a system they feel has taken advantage of them. “There’s no implied lifetime employment anymore, not even at IBM,” writes one two-job worker.

This behavior is not illegal though it could be a breach of contract and/or raise confidentiality issues. It can certainly get you fired. It also does not seem to be an isolated practice. In fact, the website Overemployed (aka Career Polygamy) not only encourages this, but also gives advice on how to pull it off. Included in the advice is to not work too hard so that you do not draw attention to yourself. Do just enough to keep each job. In short, embrace mediocrity. Al Franken says that “mediocre people are always at their best.” (I think Al “borrowed” that quote from Somerset Maugham.)

These digital-age workers are using two or three laptops and are sometimes on two Zoom meetings at a time. Some anxious moments can occur when they are expected to speak in two meetings at once. They handle it by dropping offline, then blaming it on a faulty internet connection.

Moonlighting is not new, but this latest iteration brings with it a new level of deception. Many workers in this new generation feel less loyalty to their employers. They are less dedicated to long hours in a job that sacrifices their personal lives, has no pension plan and may not have benefits. If they are prioritizing quality of life, they may indeed have a point. However, the difference here is that they are breaking the good-faith trust contract to give your best effort and performance. They are also intentionally deceiving, and lying to their employers. They have no intention of doing their best.

We were always aware, in our hiring process at Fort Lewis College, that some job applicants were interested in securing a job for only a few years with their real intention of retiring in Durango. We had to guard against this.

Durango is a perfect example of a town where it is extremely difficult to make enough to buy a home. FLC graduates know to remain in Durango, they must often work two or three jobs. Their motives and efforts are generally sincere. The situation described above is clearly different.

My aunt Anne always said: “Do a job big or small, do it right or not at all.”

Still words to live by.

Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College professor and basketball coach.