Moonlighting, or the act of having a second, often secret job on top of a full-time job, has been a point of contention within the tech industry for years.
Some people view it as a necessary evil in an industry hit hard by economic recession, budget shrinkage, and the many portents about workplace AI coming for people’s jobs. Others question the ethics of moonlighting because it could draw employees away from their commitments at their full-time job, whether it’s because they’re tired, distracted, or unable to maintain boundaries between gigs.
4 Reasons Why Employees Moonlight
Of 1,000 people surveyed by Zoho, the top reasons for moonlighting were:
- Making a supplementary income.
- Following a passion.
- Developing a new skill.
- Seeking additional challenges.
If approached with an open mind, moonlighting can benefit both employees and employers. It’s likely that employees learn new skills from moonlighting and escalate their contributions at work. This is especially true for employees who work alongside AI in both their full-time job and their second gig, as the skills they learn in their moonlighting position can translate directly to their full-time job.
Regardless of your ethical stance, until compensation levels become unstuck, moonlighting remains a necessary evil for many people. Let’s break down how AI can help employees moonlight, how it can hinder, and how employers should deal with it.
Why Is Moonlighting on the Rise?
Despite the pandemic slowing the trend temporarily, moonlighting has persisted. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers with more than one job in the U.S. has risen to 7.8 million in 2023, creeping up from 7 million just two years prior.
The rise of generative AI has made moonlighting more straightforward than ever before. Simple tasks at either job can be accomplished instantly and with few resources, freeing up time for additional responsibilities without sacrificing productivity. And the technology continues to proliferate, meaning it won’t be long before AI becomes accessible to folks across budgetary restrictions and resource allocations.
Will AI Make Moonlighting Moot?
After reviewing a new employee and recruiter survey on moonlighting, it seems AI could not only enable moonlighting but could also be the reason why the practice starts falling out of favor.
Consider the employee who seeks part-time data entry work on the side to earn some extra money. A task that might have taken the employee several hours to complete a few years ago now takes only minutes with a few AI prompts and a diligent double-check. AI makes it easy for employees with any tech savvy to set themselves up with an easy additional source of income.
However, generative AI is becoming cheaper with each passing moment, making it attractive to adopt for full-time employers — and if software-as-a-service platforms don’t already include it standard, they will soon. Using AI in the workplace eliminates many time-consuming tasks, freeing up an employee’s time to focus on higher impact assignments or new responsibilities. This extra support from AI empowers employees to shape their daily duties, and it becomes less likely they’ll get bored or feel stuck in their role.
And, of the four main reasons that people moonlight, AI in the workplace diminishes two of them: learning new skills and seeking additional challenges. Some of the skills an employee might want to learn, such as how to interpret data, are no longer needed thanks to AI. Monitoring and shaping the results of AI labor rather than interpreting data themselves has become the most important fluency for employees to achieve, and if they’re learning this at their full-time job, there’s less chance they’ll become disengaged. Or worse, apathetic.
AI is also eliminating many of the part-time roles that appeal to moonlighting folks. For instance, tech-heavy jobs such as coding are being handed off to AI with its evolving language capabilities. Even more creative pursuits, such as content writing or design, now require only a small team of individuals to tweak AI output rather than ideate from scratch. With time, AI might curb moonlighting entirely or make it look fundamentally different than it does now.
how employees vs. recruiters feel about moonlighting
Of the employees surveyed, only 40 percent believe moonlighting leads to quiet quitting, while 52 percent of recruiters believe that it does.
Further, 52 percent of employees stated that their work-life balance has not been affected by taking on an additional job. And while 48 percent of employees say there has been an effect, 31 percent of those respondents say it can't be helped because they need the extra money, and 17 percent said the effect isn't a problem because they enjoy the work they do.
How Employers Can Handle Moonlighting
Generative AI is capable of many things, but it’s safe to say it doesn’t harbor any secret passions (as far as we know). Human employees, however, might have to contend with their day job not checking the boxes of what they’d really like to be doing. That shouldn’t count as a strike against them, but it could cause an employee to divert energy away from their day job and toward the moonlighting gig they like more.
Companies should have frank discussions about moonlighting with their employees. The dialogue itself is helpful to employees regardless of the outcome. In fact, 54 percent of employees who participated in the Zoho survey say they don’t know their company’s rules and policies around moonlighting.
Employers will benefit by offering these employees encouragement rather than reprimands. Companies need to lead with transparency, promise not to retaliate, and approach the chat with their employees in mind, not upper management. They can ask what the secondary gig offers, how it’s different from an employee’s primary job, and where the two overlap. Perhaps a simple reshaping of an employee’s role is all that’s required.