Q. My company doesn't have a moonlighting policy. So, can I work a second job outside the normal business hours as long as it doesn't interfere with my present employment? In the absence of any policy, I would rather do this quietly instead of having a debate with my managers and HR and risk my request getting denied.
A. Ambition is most often considered a positive trait, and depending on where you are in your career, you may be exhibiting that trait by taking a second job – there is potential for commendation.
People more junior in their careers have often worked second jobs to supplement their incomes. Some employees use their professional expertise in their second job - for example, accounting or finance professionals moonlighting as seasonal tax preparers, or IT professionals developing web sites for friends - while some employees continue to work as waitresses, bartenders, gardeners, house painters or in retail stores. Most employers accept this type of moonlighting as long as the second job doesn't interfere, or represent the employer or employee poorly.
As people progress in their careers and their earnings increase, so do the demands on their time. At this point, people typically end second jobs that do not use their professional skills, but may keep projects, or seasonal work which minimizes the impact on their time.
For many reasons, the more senior an employee is, the less accepted moonlighting is - especially if your second job uses the same skills as your primary role. Normal business hours become a thing of the past, as acting like an hourly employee is frowned upon. Clock watching is not the way to develop a strong career, and employees are encouraged to do what it takes to get the job done. Meetings last past 5 o'clock, and with few exceptions, people are expected to stay. There may be evening events on a regular basis which become part of the job, and employees are expected to attend.
Creative attention being diverted from your full time job is also not acceptable to most employers, especially when your moonlighting is in your area of expertise. Your employer does not expect that you will devote energy to a new endeavor "after hours" in which they do not play a part. Contracts about work product do not talk about your efforts as occurring between 8 and 5, but as occurring while employed by the company. If there is anyway that your work can be seen as competitive to your employer, questions about your loyalty to your employer will surface.
You have recognized the risk in discussing the moonlighting activity with your employer, and you anticipate a debate. Would the debate be about the time, who the work is for, or the type of work you are doing? If the work uses proprietary information you gained while on the job, your risk increases with each hour worked for someone else.
What is the risk if they discover your activity in another way? Are you publicizing your work? Is your second job or extra curricular work listed on your linked-in profile? I believe your employer will be disappointed in both the activity and the lack of disclosure.
If you are considered a senior member of staff, regardless of whether a policy does or does not exist, your relationship with your employer is in jeopardy, and your judgment and professionalism will be questioned - especially if the skills you use for them are skills you are offering to others.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
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