Like many Canadians, a woman we’ll call Mary was looking for a little extra income during the pandemic, to offset the rising cost of living. But instead of turning to the traditional options of working some overtime, freelancing a little or starting up an unrelated side hustle, she and her partner took things a little further by each getting a second, full-time job in their field — without leaving their first one, or telling either boss about it.
They are not alone. Mary and her partner, who have been granted anonymity to conceal their identities, are part of a growing trend that’s being called overemployment. And there’s a website — overemployed.com — to help remote workers do it.
It was set up by Isaac Price who, sensing layoffs were coming in 2020, “started on my exit plan,” he says of his origin story. “After months of slogging through interviews, I landed a job offer.” But the layoff never came and once he realized he could juggle both jobs at once, “it dawned on me, why quit my job at all? That’s when the idea was born.”
In contrast to the viral office trend of “quiet quitting” that sees many workers only engaging in the bare minimum that’s required of them, people who sign up for the overemployed life are moving in the opposite direction: burning the candle at as many ends as they can manage, getting multiple full-time paycheques for as long as they can pull it off.
There’s a thriving community on Reddit devoted to the movement. One prominent YouTuber proudly documented his experience dabbling in it — including how it came crashing down.
Working exclusively from home is almost always key to the entire operation. Mary’s partner, an engineer, was the first to dip his toe into the overemployment pool, signing up for a second full-time engineering job paying $90,000 a year back in January 2021. Mary decided to follow suit last fall by getting two jobs — one in finance, and one in accounting, each paying $60,000 a year for full-time work.
“We just looked at the budgets and we thought we definitely need this,” she says of their four jobs, which doubled their household income to $300,000. That’s a large income by any definition, but Mary says they need the cash to stay afloat. “It wasn’t about whether we can or not … we have to,” she said.
It makes for some long hours, as Mary says they each average 12-14 hours of work every day, and some on weekends. Others online say they’re able to swing it without putting in much more than 40 hours a week. And the pandemic is what made it all possible, because of the widespread acceptance of remote work.
Mary and her partner were mindful of only seeking out jobs that could be done from home for the entire time, because the day any of their bosses call them into the office, the jig is up. If and when that happens, “I would quit,” she said.
Even from home, it’s hard to juggle it all. She started both her jobs around the same time, and at one point was in training modules for both jobs at once.
“Often I would just have to turn off my camera [and] put my stuff on mute on one,” she said. “There have been a couple of times where I’ve been called upon to answer something from both companies simultaneously,” she said. “Then you really scramble … it really hits you.”
Exact numbers on the trend are hard to come by, but Anthony Leutenegger, a Canadian and head of business development at technology company Aragon Labs, says it’s clearly a growing trend, especially in technology.
“The reason you’re seeing it pop up more now is because of the remote work,” he said in an interview. “You couldn’t do that as easily if you were in an office.”
As remote and hybrid work gets more entrenched, he says overemployment will be, too. “I think we’re going to see a huge rise in over employment over the next year,” he said.
The concept of white collar workers moonlighting in a second job after working hours end is nothing new, but working two or more at the same time in secret is. While Leutenegger says he has no problem with employees working extra hours for someone else, in his experience, people trying to do too much don’t end up doing good work for anyone.
“I’m the type of person that gives 150 per cent to the organization I work for, so it’s not something that crosses my mind, nor would I have time to even consider it.”
He manages multiple teams, entirely remotely, and he says while he doesn’t think anyone he works with right now is doing it, it’s certainly happened in the past.
He recalls one former worker who had given their notice of leaving the company. While doing research about the team at another company Aragon was going to be dealing with, it emerged that the worker in question was working there, and had been for some time.
“I had a hearty laugh,” he recalls. He wasn’t meeting expectations, he says, and while it wasn’t bad enough that he was going to be let go, “at the end of the day, it’s quite obvious when somebody is not giving all the time that they’re supposed to, to the work,” he said.
“I was not surprised at all.”
For him, working two jobs isn’t necessarily a firing offence, but he’d rather give the work to someone else “who can probably do a better job and won’t be working multiple jobs at the same time and will be less distracted.”
But that doesn’t mean those doing it are on solid ground, legally speaking.
Employment lawyer Dennis Buchanan says even if a second job isn’t against anything in the letter of an employment, a lot of the rules are implied to discourage that sort of arrangement.
In managerial positions especially, there’s often what’s known as a “full-time and attention” clause, which means the worker is obligated to “commit their full time and attention to the job and they’re not going to go and do other things on the side,” he said in an interview.
“When you’re doing productive work, they want it to be for them unless they know and have consented otherwise,” he said.
“If it’s going to interfere with your job, if … it’s affecting your productivity or it’s basically hours that we expect you to be working for us and you’re working for them, either one of those is going to be a problem.”
And of course, anything to do with working for a competitor in the same field is an obvious red flag for him, something that Mary says she’s keenly aware of. She and her partner went through their contracts with a fine-tooth comb to make sure it was above board, and while she says no conflicts have emerged yet, she’s well aware of the stakes.
“I think we’d get fired. I’ve had friends who’ve done two jobs at the same time. Their employers have found out and they got fired.”
That anxiety is taking its toll, she says. “Each day you’re like, is this going to be the day that I get fired? Or one calls us back to the office; every single day you’re on high alert.”
That’s a big reason why even if they don’t get caught, they don’t plan on continuing their overmployment plan for much longer, because they’ve learned that the danger of burning the candle at both ends is usually burnout.
“As soon as we can stop working two jobs, we will,” she said. “It’s not recommended. It’s not desirable.”