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Overemployment - Has hustle culture backfired on the tech industry?

Overemployment has hit the news pretty hard in recent weeks.

You've likely heard about Equifax firing 24 overemployed workers after using their own software to surveil their employees. But, overemployment has become more common with the rise of remote work. In particular, parts of the tech industry has pushed hustle culture on their teams for years - the idea that extreme hours and unsustainable levels of productivity are the sign of a high potential individual.

What is overemployment?

Overemployment occurs when a person has more than one full-time job. The pandemic and resulting remote work have opened the door for employees to take on multiple, simultaneous roles. These employees work full time and receive paychecks from two different employers.

Has the hustle culture backfired?

Some employers have equated overemployment to theft, implying that the person is paid for time that should be spent on their company, but the employee takes that time back and uses it to be paid for another role at another company.

There's a problem with this argument, though. Tech, in particular, has touted payment for results, not time, for years. The idea is that a person is paid for the outcome of their work as described in their job description and individual goals. A sales person closes some amount of sales. An engineer writes a certain amount of code, which must meet quality standards.

Additionally, changes to FLSA laws in the past decade have forced employers to look at job function and autonomy differently. Many employees are salaried, and therefore there is no implication of required hours of work - only outcome of the work.

If an employee is performing to a level that meets expectations of a role, but they are also able to perform in a second role to a level that meets another employer's expectation, where is the issue?

Are the standards for the role set? Are they reasonable? Is the employee achieving what is expected of them?

Or, has the company been lazy about outlining, communicating expectations? Have the measurements for achievement to expectations been lacking? Is the role description outdated? Is the performance management system broken?

If a high performer wants to leverage their skills and expertise to complete quality work at a faster pace than expected, and then use their time to earn more for another company, where is the fault? One could argue this is a new manifestation of the hustle culture that tech has valued in the past - only, now the hustle efforts are pointed toward the person's achievements, rather than solely the company's.

Ultimately, if the work is sub-par, then let performance management do its job. This isn't a time issue. It's a work quality and outcome issue. Performance management is meant to create transparency and accountability, while building trust with the team. In a healthy environment, expectations and measurements are known to everyone and consistent across the board. Poor performance is handled appropriately and consistently, and is independent of the amount of minutes a person spends creating an outcome. By confusing efforts and results (something the tech industry consistently cautions against when it benefits the organization), trust is eroded and alignment is elusive.

Current conditions have created tension in the environment.

  • Rising inflation has caused employees to look for ways to earn additional money.

  • Remote work has freed up time that was previously spent on commutes, restaurant lunches, and coffee hour breaks.

  • Higher salary expectations and a potential recession has caused employers to look for ways to save money, and to pull out the microscope on their teams, looking for greater efficiencies in their organizations. They're looking for more production out of their current, or reduced teams.

  • The history of tech's claim to reward outcome, rather than efforts puts salaried employees' productivity metrics in the hands of managers who set the outcome expectations.

Getting back on track with healthy performance management, regular manager/employee checkins, and transparency in expectations, overemployment becomes irrelevant to the organization. If an employee can actually perform two roles successfully, at a high performance level - good on them. They should benefit from their skills and hard work. (Their hustle should work for them.)

We aren't trying to throw shade on the tech industry. There are plenty of great opportunities available through the innovation and culture of these companies. There are so many amazing companies in the tech industry who create incredible environments for their teams, and build products that change lives. We don't intend to diminish that. We simply want the best for BOTH the company AND the person. And we believe that is possible.

What do you think? We'd love your thoughts - in agreement or opposition. Check us out at

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