“I’d bet 10% or more of our remote staff, especially programmers, have another full-time job! We need to stop this before it gets out of hand and get everyone back to the office.
So said the chairman of the board of a Fortune 1000 technology company when I met with the board to help them understand the company’s plans for permanent jobs after the pandemic. Having helped 19 organizations determine their hybrid and remote work plans, I have heard such sentiments too often.
So I asked him where he got his information from. He told me that he sits on the board of other companies and that’s what he’s heard from other members, and he assumes the same thing is happening here.
Salacious headlines are fueling executive distrust of remote work
“These people who work from home have a secret: they have two jobs”, shouts a title of The Wall Street Journal. The Guardian writes “It’s the biggest open secret out there: the white-collar double life with two jobs.” And according to Bloomberg, “many remote workers secretly juggle two or more full-time jobs.”
These articles, and many others like them, have mostly a similar structure. The reporter interviews an anonymous remote employee, usually in a tech-related field, about how he managed to get a second job while working remotely. The employee talks about the extra money he is able to get, which is worth the burden of working many more hours. There are often exciting and dramatic escapades about how they managed to avoid getting caught. Sometimes there are cautionary tales of workers being discovered and fired.
These types of reports play on our narrative fallacy, a dangerous mental blind spot that leads us to understand the world through stories rather than facts. Of course, stories can be helpful illustrations of larger data points. But the danger comes from stories that speak to our feelings and intuitions, disregarding real evidence.
They also fuel the availability bias of our minds. This cognitive bias refers to the fact that we tend to pay attention to the most available information in our memory. Such salience occurs because these story-based articles arouse our emotions, which are particularly stimulated by the criminal elements of these tales.
It’s no surprise that the most traditionalist executives and board members who read these stories incorporate these stories into their view of reality. After all, one of our most fundamental cognitive biases is confirmation bias, the predisposition of our mind to seek out information that confirms our beliefs, whether or not that information matches the facts. They cling to these stories and then repeat them at C-suite and board meetings, just like this chairman of the board.
View factual data on multiple jobs
To be clear, I have no personal interest in any specific outcome: my priority is getting the right information to serve my clients. That’s why my first source of information for external benchmarks on employment and similar economic data is the Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED).
FRED gathers a variety of data, primarily from US government agencies and other high-quality sources, to provide long-term trends in the US economy. FRED’s goals are to provide the most accurate information possible, so that everyone, from the Federal Reserve to CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies to founders of start-ups, can make the best business decisions, maximizing profits. government tax revenue. FRED has no interest or interest in promoting in-office, hybrid or remote working.
So consider data on multiple workers as a percentage of all employed members of the U.S. workforce from 2000.
We are at an all-time low of multi-job employees. The peak occurred at the turn of the century, when 5.8% of all workers held multiple jobs. Currently, about 4.8% do. Just before the pandemic, 5.2% had more than one job.
These data include both full-time and part-time jobs. The story may not be different for those in full-time jobs. Yet data shows that 438,000 workers had two full-time jobs in July 2022. This translates to 0.27% of the total labor force of 163,500,000 this year. This compares to 418,000 in July 2000 or just 0.3% of the total workforce of 138,800,000 that year.
So while we’re not at an all-time low of dual full-time workers, we’re about average, and the 10% estimated by the chairman of the board is more than an order. too large in size.
Context of anecdotal evidence
What about all those anecdotes reflected in the headlines? Isn’t the plural of anecdote said to be a given, the chairman of the council asked me.
The reality is that it is true that many more remote workers are working two full-time jobs than in the past. However, this is not because the proportion has increased: it is still below 0.3%. No, it’s because a lot more people are working remotely.
Prior to the pandemic, research from Stanford University shows that 5% of all workdays were done remotely. Two years after the start of the pandemic, this number is over 40%, eight times higher. Thus, of the tiny fraction of all employees who work two full-time jobs, a much larger proportion will be remote. So we will definitely hear more stories about it.
But the fact that more such incidents will occur will not change the fact that it is still less than 0.3% of all workers. All those gasping headlines about two-time telecommuters and the traditionalist executives who buy into them ignore the underlying probabilistic base rate, which is the actual probability of this scenario.
This is a cognitive bias known as base rate neglect, where we focus on individual anecdotes and do not assess the statistical likelihood of events. Likewise, even though air travel is about 100 times safer than driving, the breathless headline drama surrounding plane crashes leads people to overlook the statistics and travel by car, leading to many more deaths.
What executives often miss is that many of the employees who worked two full-time jobs before the pandemic did so from their desks. Do you think people work a full eight hour day when they arrive? Far from there. Research shows that, on average, employees work 36% to 39% of their time in the office. The rest is spent on things like making non-work calls, reading social media and news websites, and even researching or working on other jobs.
Trust your staff
If you can’t trust an employee to work well remotely, you can’t trust them to work well in the office. And a recent Citrix study of knowledge workers whose work can be done remotely full-time shows that those who are required to come to the office full-time have the least confidence in their employers, compared to hybrid or remote workers. full time remotely. Not surprising. Their bosses are showing deep-rooted mistrust by forcing them to come to the office full-time when their work can be done mostly or even entirely remotely.
If this mutual trust between employer and employee is absent, the employee will disengage. A Gallup survey of hybrid and remote work finds that when employees are required to work on-site, but both can and prefer to do their jobs remotely or primarily remotely, the result is significantly lower engagement and well-being, and significantly higher levels of burnout and intention to leave. In fact, if the employer took away the option of remote work, 54% of people working remotely would likely look for another job. In total, more than three quarters of all respondents want to work less than three days a week in the office.
My clients’ internal surveys align with these external surveys. For example, the Information Science Institute (ISI) at the University of Southern California, a research institution with more than 400 employees, initially decided in the summer of 2021 on a three-day policy at desk. They transitioned in fall 2021 to a trust-based, flexible and team-driven model.
Ultimately, the Fortune 1000 tech company’s chairman of the board agreed that the best practice for the future of work is a collaborative and trust-based approach. Trust your employees, and they will trust you. Consider their work styles and preferences, and they will reward you with higher engagement, productivity, and loyalty. And make decisions using data, not stories.
Gleb TsipurskyPhD, is the CEO of Disaster Prevention Experts. He is the author of 77 books, including Never Follow Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Handbook on Benchmarking Best Practices for Competitive Advantage.