The Hypocrisy Of The Two-Job Panic

Ed Zitron 13 min read

Last year I wrote about the “teacher, you didn’t give us any homework!” hysteria around the prospect that people may be doing two jobs while working remotely, knowing that I would invariably have to return to it. It’s the perfect anti-remote cudgel - a panicked worry about a theoretical thing that could happen that, despite how scary it is, never appears to have caused anyone any harm.

Their fear is simple - that those they hire want to stay remote because they’re greedy little piggies who want to work two jobs at once. Without an office, it’s impossible to tell what a person is doing at any given time without surveillance software. And if someone isn’t in the office, how can we tell if they’re being greedy and doing stuff that isn’t for the company that’s hired them?

FastCompany recently published an op-ed by a professor at George Washington University about “the hidden reason people don’t want to go back to the office” - that remote work has “emboldened some to disengage from their primary employers—sometimes without any remorse.”

Before we go any further, I want to make it clear that nobody in this scenario who’s doing both of their jobs to a high quality should feel any remorse at all. Why should they? Other than breaking some weird norm (assuming no contractual obligation was broken), what remorse should they feel? What did they do wrong? Who are they hurting?

Let’s take a look, shall we?

A troubling example is that a Washington DC assistant principal was found also working as a principal in Rhode Island. Nobody noticed a performance decline. Indeed, he was praised for his skills. His moonlighting was duplicity against the citizens—parents and students alike—of Washington and Providence. The DC Board of Ethics is taking this so seriously that in addition to dismissal, thousands of dollars in fines and a year in jail are pending.

In this case, he served as an Assistant Principal at one school remotely while being the Principal of another in-person. The code of ethics violation is bad, but let’s see what actually happened:

Redmond confirmed Monday that he worked the two jobs simultaneously and said he resigned from Kramer as soon as he learned that he was unable to hold both positions. He told The Washington Post that he worked around-the-clock to fulfill his responsibilities at Kramer, leading and attending professional development sessions and regularly meeting with parents and students.

“I worked virtually as the [assistant principal] for Kramer during fall 2020 fulfilling all duties and responsibilities … with highly effective ratings while also working in-person as the principal in Providence, also receiving excellent marks,” Redmond wrote in a message to The Post.

So what you’re telling me is that Mr. Redmond did two jobs very well and resigned from one the very second he knew he violated any code. The article refers to what he did as “double-dipping,” suggesting some moral failure on the part of a guy working to make the lives of children better, a guy who launched a popular book club for minority students and in his assistant principal role that he was doing as his “second job” personally went to bring food and care for those who survived a mass shooting. Other than the violation of a code that I’d argue existed to stop someone from taking a for-profit job in addition to their job with the city, what did he do wrong?

Of all the examples to choose as a “bad guy” in his scenario, why vilify a person of color who has gone above and beyond the call of duty for his job? Probably because you’re an old white professor who has done nothing but teach at schools that seems to believe this makes you an authority.

Sidenote: I’ve had one or two notes from people I’ve gone on to unsubscribe about how “I keep bringing race into things.” I continually do this because I believe that the consideration of the judgment of people of color within labor is crucial to explaining the rationales and biases of those discussing it. Reconciling with privilege is a duty of anyone writing about labor, and it’s important to bring up race, especially when it comes to judging the motives behind what’s being written.

Carrying on from that sidenote, it’s important to recognize the language used to describe Mr. Redmond - he was “moonlighting,” and it was “duplicity against the citizens - parents and students alike - of Washington and Providence.” But was it? Where was Professor Bailey when Jack Dorsey, a wealthy white man, was the CEO of two companies at once? Nowhere to be found.

Continuing with Professor Bailey’s nonsense, he makes probably one of the worst points I’ve ever seen:

Working a second job is nothing new. Moonlighting is as old as moonlight. Most who moonlight are hovering around federally defined livable wages and are disproportionally women and single parents. These people need the extra funds.  

That’s not the case with today’s remote workers. Ziprecruiter reports that remote workers make $66,000 annually on average, far above the livable wage. The WSJ reports that those they interviewed are on track to make $200,000 to $600,000 per year with that extra job.  This is fundamentally different than someone who labors in landscaping during the day and in restaurant kitchens in the evening.

God, what a fucking cretin. I wanted to write something clever in response, but this point drips of privilege and ignorance in a way that surprised even me. Let’s break it down:

  1. He is directly saying that having two jobs is a poor person problem, and also that to do two jobs remotely is morally bad because “women and single parents” need that money more. “These people” is also some incredible codified language.
  2. His statement about living wages is broken, mainly because it makes two incorrect assumptions about “liveable” and “livable wage” means. He frames $66,000 - roughly $31 an hour - as some opulent, complaint-free lifestyle and then immediately takes the Wall Street Journal’s sample size of a handful of people as indicative of a larger trend.

I realize I’m eviscerating this article line by line, but it is really important to remark upon how awfully-sourced these arguments are. This is panic journalism, built to justify the suppression of remote work by framing the remote worker as some sort of privileged, avaricious monster, hell-bent on extracting capital from every source as possible - which, of course, is very different from the companies they work for.

Bailey then cites his own study - a 1022-person “qualified respondent” survey taken on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk:

I posed two questions on Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturk) and got 1,022 qualified respondents. All were full-time office employees—not independent proprietors or consultants—that had worked at least 80% from home since April 2020. The average age was 34, with the range of 26 to 44. Fifty-eight percent were men and 42% were women. These demographics are perfectly compatible with a recent study reported by Fast Company that found that the Millennial generation was more opposed to returning to the office than the other two generations that occupy the workforce—Gen X and Boomers.

Interesting. Or at least it would be, if it wasn’t because Mechanical Turk is not a generalizable population, at least in the case of health status and behaviors, and the research community questions the validity of any results that go through it.

Bailey makes several too-long-to-quote analyses, including one specifically around a correlation between those who work more hours outside of their primary job reporting that their work product has suffered less:

It should be that the more one works outside of their primary job, the more one believes their performance is negatively affected. That just makes sense. It turns out that’s only true up to a point. There is just one explanation that captures these results: When double the work is taken on, the less one believes their performance is adversely affected. The explanation here comes from research into cognitive dissonance, which reasons the harder one works, the more they value the pursuit because they have to justify the effort. It’s a “sunk costs” or “escalation of commitment” phenomenon.

So, people acknowledge performance decline the more they moonlight, but only up to a point. Interesting. Up to 30 hours a week, respondents agreed their performance suffered. After that, respondents believe their performance wasn’t affected. Either they have really easy primary jobs, or they’re working some mental gymnastics to rationalize what they’re doing.  

This research punctures a widely held myth: that remote workers are using any extra time to better themselves. They aren’t all exercising or planting gardens or painting or digging Koi ponds. They’re working. Often a second job. Not necessarily to benefit their primary employer or their primary colleagues, but to benefit their own pocketbooks.

Okay, so I’m not a lifetime professor,  but if I were comparing two separate pieces of research, I would choose the extremely well-sourced and peer-reviewed study over “a study I made using Amazon’s survey platform.” Furthermore, it is basic knowledge that correlation does not imply causation, and it is a hilarious leap of faith to suggest that you’ve “punctured a widely held myth” that was justified by an actual piece of academic writing with one study.

There’s also a relatively obvious counter-opinion - the more hours you’re working at two jobs, the more likely you will be proficient at doing both. Suppose you are capable of getting lots of hours doing something part-time (or even full-time, which this does not delineate between because he doesn’t care about proving anything but his biases). In that case, you are likely proficient enough to do it well, and to a high quality. You’re also used to juggling more work. This logic is about as rigorously-sourced as his - except I’m not writing on FastCompany, and I’m not a professor.

Now, you may at this point think that I could not hate this man and his half-assed opinions any more than I currently do, and you’d be wrong.

Sure, homers would like some extra scratch. Why not? Maybe they’re bored and have too much time on their hands. Maybe this extra work provides a needed challenge or an escape from the pandemic’s purgatory.  

And maybe it’s raw opportunism.  

It appears that the day of employee loyalty is long gone. Loyalty has been waning for decades and was always elusive. Leading remote workers is hard enough. Now it means you have to keep your people working for just you, much less jumping ship.  

Remote work has allowed homers to moonlight. Because all of those informal office dynamics—camaraderie, citizenship, sociability, information exchange, bonding, and others—have been stripped away by late rising and sweat pants and polo shirts. Maybe remote work is here to stay, despite all its collateral damage. It has emboldened some to disengage from their primary employers.  

Sometimes without any remorse.

God, what a scumbag.

This is scummy, thoughtless behavior - the act of someone so disconnected from the workforce that they have classified every remote worker as some privileged subgroup of society. What’s worse is the amount of boot-licking - saying that people are working second jobs “without remorse” and are “opportunistic” as if he himself isn’t a craven, worthless opportunist, spreading fairy tales about remote work to make the worst kinds of people happy.

It’s also wrong, founded on broken logic and broken research from a boot-licking Professor who views workers as slaves. The language of “remorse” and “opportunism” assumes a level of responsibility to the employer that an employee shouldn’t have, suggesting a relationship that goes beyond “money paid for labor.”

The Litmus Test

Where you stand on this issue, in my mind, is a fairly good test of your views on labor. If you view someone doing two jobs remotely (assuming they’re A) doing both jobs well and B) not breaking any kind of contract) as an “opportunist” or “acting without remorse,” you fundamentally believe that workers owe something to their employers other than their labor.

This important distinction is at the root of almost everything I’ve discussed in this newsletter.

When you hire someone, you are hiring them to do a series of tasks and pay them a salary rather than hourly because you believe they are worth that salary, and because you are paying them the worth of the task rather than the time spent on it. This has - other than paying people a salary because it’d be cheaper than paying them hourly - been the predominant reasoning behind any salaried employment.

The mass cognitive dissonance from what David Roth calls “the fuming boss community” is around an unspoken part of salaries - ownership. The push against remote work has emotionally changed from “it doesn’t work” to “it’s bad for the worker” to a new form - that remote work turns workers into uncaring deviants that are tearing apart the fabric of the working world. The injection of morality into the conversation - that workers aren’t “loyal” and decide to be “mediocre at two jobs rather than good at one” - is the first time we’re really seeing corporations (and their supporters) showing their true colors and their belief that we have obligations to those we work for similar to family and friends.

The thing is, we don’t, and we shouldn’t. While we should be reliable and available to those we work for, that doesn’t mean we “owe” them anything outside our job's requirements. If our work is done, and it’s done well, it doesn’t really matter where we are or when we are there - while there is some burden of response time (an expectation that should be set early and transparently), and deadlines should be hit, there is otherwise no requirement from the employer.

As an aside, I’ve also found companies that don’t set deadlines tend to be the worst to work for, and do so as a means of instilling a false urgency in everything you do. They’ll say it “keeps you on your toes” but they actually mean “we want you in a constant state of panic because it makes us happy.” These are the tactics of abuse, and they’re terribly common.

As I’ve written again and again and again, worker loyalty starts at a simple place: you are exchanging money for their labor. You do not own them, you do not own their time outside of the hours you set, and they do not owe you anything other than the labor and the tasks involved in said labor. Loyal workers appreciate when their work is made as easy as possible and they are insulated from things that make their work - and their lives - harder. They are loyal when their working conditions are good and they are recognized for their contribution.

The mistake that companies, executives and managers make is conflating recognition of contribution with work being “more than about making money.” While there are reasons that we work beyond simply making money, if we removed the money part, or vastly reduced the pay on the job, they would quit. Furthermore, knowing we’re doing a good job is still part of the transaction of labor for payment - it’s a way of knowing we’re doing well at the job, and how we might do better at the job to make more money. And yes, there are benefits and perks we get as part of a job - including recognition - but they are still a payment for a service.

It’s also important to - as I’ve mentioned in the past - recognize the flagrant hypocrisy of this issue. I technically have several jobs at once - they’re called clients, and I am a consultant. A consultant is a good person in the eyes of Professors and Business Monsters everywhere because they have “hustled” to “build a business.” However, a remote worker that has two jobs shows “no remorse” and is morally reprehensible because they…have…made a commitment? I don’t even know. I am trying to write this in a way that shows a profound difference, and there really isn’t one other than the terminology we use.

Now, I do note that if you’re doing two competing jobs (for example, doing PR for two brands that do the same thing and make money the same way) at once you’re in the wrong - you’re playing both sides, and that sucks. But that’s a fundamentally different problem.

I think that this is also a class issue. The ruling class loves to talk about pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, but requires you to do so in a way that doesn’t antagonize the structures they used to get rich. If you don’t follow their perceived path of success - even if you enrich yourself in the same ways they have - you are on some level attacking the terms under which they “earned” their wealth.

We lionize CEOs with two jobs, serve on multiple boards, do paid-for speaking engagements, or write books, and yet we vilify a worker for trying to make money in exactly the same way. The reason is that employment is, to many people a form of servitude - you are “owned” by the company, and thus cannot use your “work time” for any reason other than to increase the resources of the company. The assumption is that this transaction of freedom for money is somehow compensated fairly, but it really isn’t.

I also believe that an alarming number of people like owning others. They gain satisfaction from containing and restraining the lives of their workers and like to know that they’re “available.” Otherwise, what does an executive do? What does a manager do? What is their position in an organization if it isn’t to manipulate people’s time and activities?

If you are running a company remotely and the company is doing well, and you as an executive are not doing much work, you should be extremely god damn grateful. The problem is that the compensation that some executives and managers receive isn’t just in cash or stock, but in the knowledge that others have to obey them, and be grateful to them for the generosity of you making them rich.

And you know what, they should be allowed to get rich if they can! Why not? If they’re not letting down their boss, why shouldn’t a worker be allowed to?

In any case, you should not be grateful or loyal to a boss just because they pay you. If you are loyal to your boss or company, it should be because that company or boss has shown you loyalty back. A great boss will care that your work is done and you’re not hurting others in the process. You’ll be loyal to them not because you’re in the office, or because of “company culture,” but because they were loyal to you. That is how this works.

If you require an office to keep people “loyal,” you’re not actually interested in loyalty - you want to imprison them. You may pretend that you know better, but deep down in your rotten little soul you know you’re only doing this because it makes you feel good inside. And you will cry, and you will scream, and you will tell me they have no remorse, and that the office is good “for culture” and it’s that bit easier to “walk over to someone’s desk.” What you actually are is an ignorant, myopic goon that wishes they were born a hundred or so years ago.

In closing, I will tell you this: I have never worked harder or longer than when I work for people who are nice to me, who pay me and treat me well, who are respectful, who appreciate my wins and commiserate with me when I lose. And I will never forget the names and actions of every cruel, spiteful boss and manager I’ve had.

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