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Second jobs & employment risks

The cost-of-living crisis is forcing millions of employees to consider taking on a second job

Research published last week by insurer Royal London raises some very worrying issues for employers.

The cost-of-living survey consulted 4,000 UK adults, and reveals that millions of workers are responding to the financial challenges of the moment by working extreme hours, or even seeking second jobs to supplement their income.

Survey results

The research found that:

  • 28% of employees are working beyond the recommended 48-hour week maximum
  • Almost 1 in 5 (19%) are working over 56 hours each week
  • Just 13% are confident they are able to cope with rising costs
  • 2 million workers are holding down more than one job
  • As many as 10 million workers are considering taking on a second job

These are extremely worrying figures, and suggest that the nation and its workforce are really struggling to cope with the continuing rise in prices being experienced.  It should also be noted that this research took place prior to the meltdown in the mortgage markets last week, which leaves even more households facing financial challenges.

Worrying as these findings clearly are for workers, they also pose some challenges to employers.

Burnout & Wellbeing

The obvious place to start here is employee burnout.  For if employees are – by financial necessity – being forced to work increasingly long hours, then there is a genuine risk of “burnout” to be considered.

Burnout is often characterised as being only to do with workplace-induced stress, yet the reality is that it often arises from experiencing a combination of stresses.  Regardless of cause, the outcomes of burnout are not ones that any sensible employer would want to encourage.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggest that workplace burnout is characterised by three components:

  • Energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from the job, or feelings of cynicism
  • Reduced professional efficacy

It should also be noted that excessive work and/or burnout can impact employees’ wider health.  After all, it is a relatively short step from extreme stress to potential mental health concerns, and likewise employees who are not able to rest and recuperate effectively may be more liable to physical health issues.

Any or all of the above is liable to damage both employee engagement and worker productivity, at a time when few employers can afford their workforce to be at anything less than 100% effectiveness.  It follows that employers and their Human Resources (HR) experts will want to avoid such an extreme long-hours culture wherever possible.

Second jobs

Yet HR experts can only fully monitor and respond to issues within their own organisation, whereas the Royal London research suggests that perhaps as many as 15 million employees already have – or are considering – taking a second job.  To put that number in context, that is nearly half of the total employed population of the nation.  It follows that most employers should probably assume that at least some of their workers are actively pursuing or taking part in a second employment.

The problem is that an employee who is simultaneously pursuing two or more forms of employment is potentially magnifying the risks to their health and wellbeing.  For instance, a second job – which will usually be casual in nature – is unlikely to pay for periods of sickness absence.  It follows that workers might feel financially compelled to continue working in their casual employment even when unwell, which could result in a minor condition getting worse, and a potentially lengthy absence from both employments as a result.

Likewise full-time employees also working evenings and/or night shifts in addition to their day jobs might be less focussed or engaged in their primary work activities, or unable to fulfil business critical tasks owing to their external employment pressures.

Finally – and certainly not least – there is the risk that the lines between the two roles become blurred, leading to practices that would not normally be acceptable in any employment.

The solution?

How can employers respond to this issue?  The glib answer would be just to pay more, yet this overlooks the economic reality of looming recession and rising business costs for so many organisations.  The stark reality is that relatively few employers are well placed to respond in this way.

Some HR experts might instead point to employee contractual commitments requiring the worker not to seek additional employment without prior agreement from their primary employer.  Whilst this may indeed be the case, the reality of enforcing such a policy could result in financial hardship for the employee and his/her family, bad feeling, and lower engagement levels.

It is also worth highlighting that there remains a genuine candidate shortage in the UK employment market right now.  Employers will therefore want to think carefully before overreacting to a valuable employee seeking additional income.

So, the employer response to the challenge of second jobs may be somewhat more complicated than it might at first appear.  Partners& would strongly suggest that helping workers better understand and control their finances should be part of that response.  Our newly launched Financial Wellbeing hub  guides employees through the four key steps to financial health, and includes useful signposting around taxation issues, state benefits, debt management and a simple guide to the savings and investments too.  This, and a quality employee discount scheme, will help employees control both their finances and everyday expenditure.

The reality is that the cost-of-living crisis will be with the nation for some time to come, and employers should do what they can to support workers through these incredibly challenging times.