Talent   //   November 16, 2023

WTF is overemployment? (and how to cope with the pressure of it)

People are working multiple jobs. 

That’s no secret when that someone is doing gig work or has minimum-wage jobs. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, multiple jobholders reached 8,137,000 this past spring – a sign of a worsening economy as people struggle to support themselves on just one paycheck. But when remote workers making six figures start to do this, it has to be kept under wraps or they risk termination. 

“We see this in particularly skilled jobs where skill shortages are pushing on the need for acquiring talent and people are getting really good rewards for taking up extra employment,” said Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula Business Services. “It’s skilled, nuanced jobs in things like IT and digital where those things are in demand.”

We spoke to an HR professional in August about how she quadrupled her salary when she started working two jobs at once. And this week Business Insider reported on someone who was working three full-time jobs at Meta, IBM, and Tinder, without his bosses knowing.

Both individuals fall into a group called the overemployed. Here’s a breakdown of exactly what that looks like:

What does it mean to be overemployed?

Being overemployed is when someone works more than one job at the same time. The term has been coined by a community of professionals online who trade tips about juggling jobs on the sly. 

Behind the entire operation is someone who goes by the pseudonym Isaac. He started the blog Overemployed in 2021 to share his secrets as an overemployed worker who started the juggle when he accepted a new job without leaving his old one during the pandemic. At first, he said he’d only do it until the end of the month, but he figured why not stick around. 

“We see this in particularly skilled jobs where skill shortages are pushing on the need for acquiring talent and people are getting really good rewards for taking up extra employment.”
Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director, Peninsula Business Services.

Today there are around 300,000 members of the community on social platforms Discord and Reddit who share tips and celebrate their successes. Their tagline? “Work two remote jobs, reach financial freedom.” For Isaac, he brought in over $300,000 of additional income – income he would have forgone if he simply quit his job.

Overemployed was originally meant to help people avoid layoffs by having back up jobs, but has grown to become so much more than that. 

How do overemployed people prioritize each job?

People who are part of the online forum and consider themselves “OE” rank each of their jobs by the priority they place on it. “J1” is the favorite, referring to the job they’ll prioritize before the others. J2 is the backup, J3 is the backup of the backup, and so on. They use other acronyms like TC (total compensation) and HPW (hours worked per week on each job) too. 

People who are part of the OE community find themselves looking for tips around things like this often. You’ll see posts on Reddit like “Tips for how to cope with the pressure of 2Js” and “J3 – Quiet Quitting.” And in some instances, people can’t put up with it: “At what point did it crush your soul?” and “How Should I Quit J2?”

Juggling multiple jobs can cause burnout in the long run, with some people wondering if the financial freedom is worth it when there is not enough time in the week to enjoy it. Sometimes it’s just doable, and it shows up in your work performance which might be an automatic red flag for your employer who will want to get to the bottom of why you’re slacking off.

Maj Hussein, owner of Magic PR, uncovered two of his workers juggling multiple jobs. “Initially, they were doing work for me as they would in a timely fashion,” he said. “But then slowly but surely, when you evaluate an employee’s performance, and you see it dipping month by month, you start wondering what is going on here.”

Are employers OK with someone working multiple jobs?

It depends. In Hussein’s case, he asked for honesty from these two individuals. 

“They told me they were going through a bit of a tough time and needed more income for the family,” said Hussein. “I was happy for them to have a second job as long as the work for us was getting done in a timely fashion.”

Hussein understood and was empathetic, and he was OK with them working a second job. However, if it had been in the same exact line of work, it would’ve been automatically shut down. 

“Slowly but surely, when you evaluate an employee's performance, and you see it dipping month by month, you start wondering what is going on here.”
Maj Hussein, owner of Magic PR.

“I would not have been happy because relaying information from one company to another doesn’t work well,” said Hussein. “Once you’ve signed that contract, you can’t go tell another competitor of yours.”

He also gave them stipulations that they would need to increase their performance where they can. Fast forward to today, the pair stopped working two jobs after they got enough money they needed for their personal situation and they still work at Magic PR.

Similarly, someone posted on the OE subreddit that their company knows and supports it. “I got hired by J1 company fully disclosing my work with J2 (it actually helps me with J1 and I used it as a unique selling point to get J1),” wrote one OE worker.

But a lot of the time, employers will fire someone as soon as they hear about this multiple-job juggle.

“If you have a particular individual who’s highly influential and integral to the business, you want them committing all their time and attention to the growth of your business,” said Palmer. “There’s without a doubt trepidation around taking up a second job because things come into play like burnout and attention to the core role.”

Many CEOs are already suspicious of remote work and whether or not someone is productive, and now they have an additional worry of whether an employee is loyal to them or not. Some employers will even add tracking software to see where else employees are surfing the web. 

“I know it’s quite Big Brother, but certainly in very corporate organizations with highly confidential data, there are systems in place to track one’s activity,” said Palmer.

However, most OE workers ensure they have separate set ups for each job they are doing with different laptops. “Overall, you’d start seeing peculiar behavioral things that could trigger alarm bells,” said Palmer. “You then have to investigate it, understand it and probe.”