The Two-Jobby Problem

Despite having written about the subject last week, I am now returning to the idea of two full-time jobs at once, because the Wall Street Journal has written a piece about doing two jobs at once, written with the prose of a sordid love affair. Rachel Feintzeig at the Journal leads by calling those doing two jobs “bored, or worried about layoffs, or tired of working hard for a meager raise every year…[and] now they have a secret,” framing the entire pursuit of two jobs as professional adultery.

She hinges the piece heavily on the site Overemployed, a community of people that want to work two remote jobs at once, and layers lots of juicy details on - people with multiple laptops working multiple jobs at once, organizing multiple Zoom meetings at once and having to mute one while they talk on another, with each person making great money and being terrified that they’re going to be found out. “Am I trying to be, like, a five-star employee?” said one person. “Not really. I’m just trying to do the job I need to not get fired,” the exact quote that someone needs if they’re trying to frame a story about how bad remote work is, and appeal to a very specific audience of people that want to frame those doing remote work as thieves.

What’s bizarre about the piece is that it doesn’t naturally conclude that these people should be starting their own consultancies. Somehow, the word consultancy or small business doesn’t appear in the article, and it has one particularly offensive quote:

When Laurie Ruettimann, now a human-resources consultant in Raleigh, N.C., was an HR executive at a Fortune 500 company, she dealt with an employee with a secret side gig. After being exposed by peers, the IT worker admitted the ploy. Ms. Ruettimann and her colleagues put him on a performance-improvement plan. A few months later, he was laid off.

“That’s not a guy who’s built for longevity at an organization,” she says.

Hey, Rachel, I’ve got an idea: why not remark on the fact that this person was a contractor and not an employee and ask a question of the person you’re talking to as to why they weren’t allowed to work two jobs? And if the answer is “the contract said they were “full time,” ask what the issue was with them working two jobs! Naww, why do that when you can just leave the anecdote on the table.

Another anecdote they chose is one of a guy who works 100 hours a week doing two jobs - which sounds truly hellish, even if he’s making almost $500,000 a year. It’s the closer of the article, and ends without going into any further detail, as per most of these articles - the real conversation here is not about working two jobs, but the hours that people are being subjected to, and the fact that working these two “full-time” jobs is totally possible.

Yesterday’s Substack subjects felt like they gave me a concussion, and today’s isn’t far behind. Somehow this article in a major newspaper that’s meant to be about people doing two jobs categorically fails to talk about working two jobs at once, framing the entire subject as an illicit gambit where you’re defrauding good people with your duplicity. Most of the people in this article seem to be doing their jobs well enough to stay employed, and if they weren’t, they’d get fired.

As I’ve said previously, it’s truly offensive that this article doesn’t suggest that these people are basically doing a thing that capitalism loves - making their own consultancies where they’re being compensated for their work rather than their arbitrary time invested. The entire prospect of two jobs at once is framed as a con-job from the show Leverage, with multiple ways in which the worker keeps themselves from being found out to pull off the ultimate swindle - getting paid for work that they actually did. If you were to skim-read this piece, you’d be forgiven for thinking that these people weren’t doing work at all - that they were skimming money off the top like greedy fraudsters, rather than literally doing two jobs that they are paid for.

This is yet more anti-remote propaganda, specifically playing to the fears of avaricious bosses that are terrified that they won’t get their money’s worth out of one of their workers. There was a very specific way to write this that wouldn’t be considered propaganda - and that was to not use terms like, and I quote, “a guide to professional double-dipping.” This piece is written as if anyone who engages in two jobs at once is a deviant - rather than, perhaps, writing about the way in which there is a philosophical barrier in the world of work that makes this kind of thing bad, but doing literally the same thing but calling it a small business or consultancy good. It was written (or, if I’m being generous to the writer, edited) to be handed to the bosses that are scared of remote work, giving nasty little worms the fear pornography they need.

There is a right way to do this and it was not done the right way. The thin research around whether this is legal is not the right way to do this - whether it’s legal is entirely based on your contract with your employer, and you shouldn’t work with companies that compete in the same realm. That’s about it. This could have been a conversation around how much work we actually do in a day, and how much we can contribute to an organization, and what “full-time employment” actually means in pragmatic and tangible terms. All of these people could have been asked questions around why they don’t start their own consultancies, and the answer would have likely been that they didn’t know how or that companies would be scared that they weren’t getting their money’s worth. From there, you could have a conversation with employers about why they feel that way. Perhaps you could add a nice little conclusion about someone considering starting their own consultancy.

Because that is what every single person in this article is effectively doing. It is so gut-churningly obvious a conclusion that I am genuinely offended that it isn’t in there. Without it, this is an article that exists to demonize remote workers and spread paranoia - a concerted, organized attempt to make remote work seem illegitimate, and remote workers seem bad.

Employees feel the freedom. The change is logistical—a worker can head to the beach this afternoon, and no one has to know—as well as emotional. After months away from the office, where workers forged deeper relationships with colleagues and identified more with their companies, many feel increasingly disconnected from their employers, says Vanessa Burbano, a management professor at Columbia Business School who has studied employee misconduct.

Why else would they be speaking with a management professor that studied employee misconduct? And why else would they frame the office as a place where you form “deeper relationships with colleagues”? And why else would they frame identifying with the company you work with as something that’s positive, rather than an abstraction from “this is a place you work to get paid”?

Also, what’s the deal with everybody acting as if you can’t make full relationships online? I met the best man at my wedding online, hell, I met my wife online, I run my company online, some of my closest friends are ones that I talk to 98% of the time online, I have deep business relationships that have lasted years with people I’ve met somewhere between zero and three times - it is a disgraceful falsehood to pretend that one requires physical contact to build relationships, and I am absolutely fucking sick of reading stuff that suggests otherwise. It is the god damn year 2021, the internet is not new, and it is irresponsible to write like this.

Every single piece that describes the “phenomena” of working for multiple companies that doesn’t frame it as more people discovering how people have built their own consultancies is an act of fraudulence. The business world lionizes people that have lots of clients, but they seem to be offended when people have two jobs because that’s stepping outside of the bounds of employee entrapment.

Perhaps, and this is only a guess here, if companies wanted people to spend their entire time on a job, they’d compensate them and make them happy. If someone gets their work done to a high quality and on time and also happens to be working another job, you do not actually have a problem, and if anything, you’re lucky to have them.