- Some sensational headlines about remote workers holding down two jobs have fueled mistrust of remote employees, causing employers to misunderstand the actual facts.
- Stories that speak to our feelings and intuitions, without regard for the actual evidence, can lead to dangerous mental blind spots known as the narrative fallacy.
- According to FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data), multiple jobholders represent a historically low percentage of all employed members of the US workforce, averaging around 4.8%.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to adopt remote work practices. While some businesses were already accustomed to remote work, many traditionalist executives and board members were skeptical about this new work arrangement. Unfortunately, some sensational headlines about remote work have fueled mistrust of remote employees, causing employers to misunderstand the actual facts.
When speaking to a Fortune 1000 tech company’s board chair while consulting on the company’s transition to hybrid work, he told me that over 10% of the company’s remote staff, especially programmers, work two remote jobs. However, when I asked him how he learned this fact, his statement was not backed by data. The chair mentioned that this was what he had heard from other board members who sat on other company boards.
It’s worth noting that our cognitive biases can easily lead us to misunderstand the actual facts. As human beings, we tend to understand the world through stories rather than facts. Unfortunately, stories that speak to our feelings and intuitions, without regard for the actual evidence, can lead to dangerous mental blind spots known as the narrative fallacy.
Salacious headlines that claim a significant percentage of remote workers hold down two jobs have fed into our cognitive biases. Most of these articles follow a similar structure. A journalist interviews an anonymous remote employee, usually in tech-related fields, about how they managed to secure a second job working remotely. The employee speaks of the additional money they’re able to secure, which is worth the burdens of working many more hours. There are often exciting and dramatic stories of how they just managed to avoid getting caught, and at times, cautionary tales of workers who were found out and fired.
While stories can be useful illustrations of broader data points, they can feed into our mind’s availability bias. This cognitive bias refers to the fact that we tend to pay attention to the information that’s most available in our memory. Such salience occurs because these story-based articles arouse our emotions, which are especially stimulated by the crime-like elements in these tales.
It’s no surprise that the more traditionalist executives and board members who read these narratives integrate these stories into their vision of reality. One of our most fundamental cognitive biases is the confirmation bias, our mind’s predisposition to look for information that confirms our beliefs, regardless of whether the information matches the facts. They latch on to such stories and repeat them in C-suite and Board meetings — as did the Chair of the Board of the Fortune 1,000 tech company.
It’s essential to examine the actual facts when discussing remote work. According to FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data), multiple jobholders represent a historically low percentage of all employed members of the US workforce, averaging around 4.8%. This data encompasses both full-time and part-time jobs.
Furthermore, less than 0.3% of the U.S. workforce holds two full-time jobs. While many more remote workers are holding down two jobs than in the past, this is because many more people are working remotely. The number of people working remotely has increased eight-fold since the pandemic started.
The sensational headlines claiming that many remote workers hold down two jobs may lead to mistrust of remote employees. Employers may suspect that their employees aren’t fully committed to their work if they have a second job. However, it’s important to remember that having two jobs is not exclusive to remote work.
Many employees who held down two full-time jobs before the pandemic did so from the office. The reality is that the possibility of working two jobs has always existed, and it’s not a remote work phenomenon. Employees who have to commute to work may find it harder to hold two jobs because of the time they spend commuting. Remote work makes it easier for employees to hold down more than one job because they don’t have to spend time commuting.
The data suggests that many remote workers are happy with their work arrangements. In fact, research by Citrix shows that knowledge workers, employees whose jobs can be done full-time remotely, exhibit a higher degree of trust in their employers when they are allowed to work remotely.
Companies that force their employees to come into the office full-time despite the availability of remote work can damage trust between employer and employee. This, in turn, can lead to disengagement, lower productivity, and increased burnout rates. Employees who are required to work on-site but have the option of remote work will likely experience lower engagement and well-being, and higher levels of burnout and intent to leave.
Internal surveys from various companies reveal that employees appreciate the flexibility and trust that comes with remote work. One of my clients, the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI), a research institution with over 400 staff, originally had a policy of three days in the office. However, after hiring me as a consultant and learning about the benefits of a team-led model, the ISI leadership decided to shift to a trust-based, flexible model.
A survey conducted in August 2022 at ISI showed that 73% of employees believed the team-led model is “much better” than the previous policy of three days in the office. In addition, 56% of employees said the team-led model makes it “much more likely” that they would recommend working at ISI to their peers. These survey responses demonstrate the higher degree of employee satisfaction and engagement through flexibility and trust.
While sensational headlines about remote work can feed into our cognitive biases and cause mistrust of remote employees, it’s important to remember that having two jobs is not exclusive to remote work — and the percentage of remote workers holding down two full-time jobs is quite low. Moreover, remote work can increase trust between employers and employees and lead to higher engagement and productivity. Companies that adopt a trust-based, flexible approach to remote work can expect to reap the benefits of a happier and more engaged workforce.