What is Polyworking?

The pandemic has had a profound effect on not just how and where people work, but also how they think and feel about working. Virtual and remote working have already challenged the geography of the workplace and put flexibility at the heart of many business and HR strategies. However, during the last two years of intermittent lockdowns and furloughing, more people have also taken the unusual opportunities presented to embrace their inner entrepreneurial spirit, seeking out secondary incomes either by launching their own businesses or undertaking freelancing work whilst still employed. This concept of having multiple different jobs at the same time has recently been referred to as ‘polyworking’. What differentiates it from freelancing is the breadth of different jobs undertaken, which can be across multiple sectors, under an array of different job titles and give separate income streams.

In April last year, Peter Johnston founded a professional membership social network site called Polywork, that enables members to share who and what they do and what they want to collaborate on. Although the site insists it is open to everyone at all life and career stages, it’s been primarily attracting young IT professionals looking to work flexibly and juggle different interests – from software engineering to guest lecturing and from computer analysis to filmmaking!

However, there is a darker side to polyworking when it is undertaken as a result of inflation, rising living costs, educational debt and working at or below the national minimum wage, forcing people to take on multiple income streams to cover costs and pay bills to survive.

Why do Employers need to know about it?

It’s important for employers to be aware of this new way of working and be proactive in understanding how it could impact their businesses. Some sectors will have little choice but to accept that attracting and retaining their best people will involve navigating potential conflicts of interest and managing performance issues that may arise from polyworking. Some employers may be unaware of an employee’s multiple job commitments until they see a change in working behaviour or a decrease in work performance.

However, a lot of the challenges and potential problems associated with polyworking can be mitigated with good planning and clear communications. Here are my TOP TEN polyworking tips for employers:

  • Seek transparency from candidates during the recruitment process: ask if they currently have multiple income streams and job commitments; and if they plan for some or all of these to continue after accepting the job role.
  • Provide flexible working opportunities that meet the needs of a wide range of people at different stages of their working lives.
  • Ensure pay and reward is regularly reviewed and, where possible, set at or above the real living wage.
  • Clarify within contracts of employment what might constitute conflicts of interest and what restrictions are in place regarding an employee’s obligations to the business and its customers.
  • Take time to plan and implement tailored induction processes, giving opportunities for new employees and their managers to discuss problems or concerns regarding work priorities and commitments.
  • Invest in people management skills training to help managers nurture positive employment relationships with their employees, particularly those working away from the office or under hybrid arrangements.
  • Be prepared to modify and enrich job roles to include variety and progression within them, particularly if there are limited career progression opportunities in the wider business.
  • Avoid using surveillance technology which can easily erode trust within the employment relationship.
  • Utilise robust and regular performance management processes to monitor individual progress, address any issues or concerns at an early stage and provide training and development opportunities.
  • Build an integrated health and wellbeing programme to provide support and guidance particularly regarding exercise, nutrition and rest, as well as training on financial planning and time management.

Organisations that recognise and accept the rise of polyworking will be in a better position to attract and retain top talent, by working openly with those employees who are proactively seeking meaning, variety and flexibility in their careers. Similarly, organisations will also be able to actively help employees who may have been juggling multiple jobs through necessity rather than choice, by paying and rewarding fairly to give improved financial security and also giving individuals meaningful training opportunities to upskill and train.

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