A few weeks ago I noticed a strange pattern of behaviors in one of my software developers. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him David K.
It started while David K was working on a very important client project, tasked with reducing technical debt and improving the codebase. It was a stressful time not only for us but our client.
The news of inflation and tech layoffs was reaching this side of the pond, and our resilience and adaptability were being tested. The clock was ticking on this refactoring project, one which could really help us weather this economic sh*tstorm.
So, one day, David K decided to keep his camera off during standup meetings – and it stayed off for every day after that. He was also very slow to reply to emails and questions on Slack. On a few occasions, he even came late to our retros that he was tasked with running. The final nail in the coffin was when his LinkedIn profile completely disappeared! What happened to David K?
That weekend, I met up with some developer friends for drinks. A few of them were engineering managers and CTOs and were in the process of scaling their engineering teams.
That was when the truth bomb finally dropped 💣
“David K? We just hired a great engineer named David K.”
David K was overemployed and working a side gig. It’s no surprise to learn that the top 5 overemployed jobs are all in tech.
So, what did I do? I had to confront David K. In other words, I had to fire him. Let me explain why I fired him, but first, let’s examine this trend called Overemployment.
What is Overemployment?
Overemployment is when an individual takes on two or more full-time, fully remote jobs simultaneously.
This means juggling multiple demanding projects at the same time, which can lead to a heavy workload, time management issues, and a messed up work-life balance.
In many cases, overemployed workers perform at a minimum, and because they do so, they just wait around to get sacked as they’re constantly looking to boost their financial situation. The mantra "Always Be Interviewing" comes to mind, an interesting take on the famous line in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Though it doesn’t seem as common, overemployment is a growing trend. In February 2023, about 10% of workers in the US reported having a main job and a side gig. By contrast, the report from the month before had only about 5% of US workers having a side gig.
Here’s My Take On Overemployment
I had to confront and fire David because he knowingly deceived me, his teammates, and the company. His performance was still the same, to be honest. I just couldn’t trust him anymore. We were not in an “open relationship.”
Also, our work contract specifically says that our developers are not permitted to work for competitors - he started working for another software development agency.
Had David approached me and said that he wanted to work another job and assured me that his commitment to the company would not waver, I might have considered his request with an open mind. We would’ve discussed ways how we could ensure a balance between his extra duties and his dedication to our company.
Is Overemployment Wrong?
Honestly, I really have no problem with a developer having multiple gigs. We’ve had a few cases at our small-but-cozy software boutique. One engineer took on another job as a way to learn a new skill - the salary was just a perk.
Also, and this is a big one: if my developers fulfill their commitments, remain honest and transparent, and operate within legal and ethical boundaries, I have no issue with it at all.
What does worry me, however, are the potential conflicts of interest (my David K example above). Also, how will they manage workloads effectively and make sure that wellbeing doesn’t take a hit? Ultimately, the morality of having multiple jobs depends on individual circumstances.
Here Are Some Signs Your Developer Is Working for Another Company Concurrently
While it's important to approach such situations with fairness, respect, and understanding, here are some signs that your developer might be working for another company while working for yours.
Where is David K? If your David K is never available during regular working hours, and he doesn’t even have a reason to be MIA, it could be a sign that your David K is double-dipping the gravy pot.
Have PRs and code commits become less frequent? Has code quality dropped? These situations could suggest that your developer is dividing his/her time and attention between multiple jobs. Also, if there were no commits during the week, and there is one big commit on Friday, it may look like things were done in a hurry in one day to show any progress.
Conflicting Deadlines or Commitments
If the developer consistently struggles to meet project deadlines or frequently has conflicting commitments, it could be an indication of their involvement with another company.
Usage of Company Resources
If you observe the developer using company resources, such as hardware, software, or work tools, for activities unrelated to their current project, it might be a cause for concern.
Suspicious Online Presence
If you notice the developer actively participating in discussions, contributing to code repositories, or maintaining a public profile related to another company or project, it could indicate that they are overemployed.
Missing LinkedIn Profile
The sudden disappearance or deactivation of a LinkedIn profile could mean that your developer is trying to conceal his or her professional activities, potentially due to being engaged in multiple jobs at the same time.
Having multiple gigs means more work means more exhaustion. If your developer shows signs of burnout like fatigue or irritability then you might have to dig around and find out what’s going on. Chances are they’re on multiple payrolls.
When a developer decides to juggle two jobs simultaneously, their attention and focus are also divided between two projects. This is unsustainable and could result in decreased efficiency.
It’s important to recognize that having side projects is acceptable, especially during times of economic uncertainty. But it becomes unfair when developers keep their side hustles secret from their bosses. That’s not cool. Engaging in dishonest practices only undermines fairness and erodes the mutual trust that should exist between developers and engineering managers 🧩