Why ‘poly-employment’ may be 2024’s next big work trend


By AJ Hess

Polyamory is in right now, at least according to The New Yorker, New York magazine, and even The Wall Street Journal. “Ethical non-monogamy isn’t new (The Ethical Slut, the polyamorous bible, came out in 1997), and it isn’t exactly mainstream, but it isn’t so fringe either (or reserved for those who live in the Bay Area),” writes The Cut. 

But what if there’s another “poly” trend on the rise, too? “Poly-employment”—or what we used to call “working more than one job”—is dramatically increasing, according to a new study by workforce management and scheduling platform Deputy. 

As part of their Big Shift report, Deputy analyzed data from 120,000 shift workers worldwide over the course of 81 million shifts. What they discovered was that “to counter the escalating cost of living, a growing percentage of workers are engaging in multiple job roles, leading to the emergence of poly-employment as a notable trend.” 

To be sure, workers needing to hold multiple jobs is not new. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in December 2003, 7,044,000 people in the U.S. worked more than one job and by December 2023, that figure was closer to 8,565,000. But according to Deputy, the number of “poly-employed shift workers” more than doubled from 2021 to 2023. 

“Poly-employment is a topic that just is screaming off the pages,” says Silvija Martincevic, CEO of Deputy.

Fast Company spoke with economists, executives, and even some polyamorous poly-workers to better understand why we may be seeing an increase in these trends—and if the term “poly-employment” is the best way to describe what these workers are doing:  

Who are poly-workers?

Among poly-workers identified by Deputy, the vast majority (78%) work in the hospitality sector, 12% work in healthcare, 6% work in retail, and 5% work in the service industry. Deputy also noticed that 60% of poly-employed workers are women and that they are disproportionately younger. For instance, the survey found that one in five Gen Z workers engage in poly-employment.

Dr. Shashi Karunanethy, consulting economist for Deputy, says the primary reason workers take on multiple jobs is to make ends meet—especially younger women and those with “family responsibilities,” he says. “It’s a trend that is rising amongst the most vulnerable workers in the U.S. workforce,” says Karunanethy. 

The rise of poly-employment 

While most people take on more than one job strictly in order to make ends meet, there are also other potential reasons why poly-employment is becoming more common. 

Karunanethy explains that working more than one job can offer workers flexible, additional, and diversified income. As workers seek more flexibility, many workers pursue jobs outside strict 9-to-5 working hours in order to balance personal responsibilities. However, the benefits of “flexibility” are often limited for those who must take on multiple roles in order to cobble together a liveable income.

Working more than one job can also be a hedge against the ongoing layoffs that continue to ripple throughout the economy, as many want the reassurance that they will remain at least partially employed.

Growing up in Croatia in the ’90s, Martincevic herself was raised by two hourly workers. Her father was a truck driver and her mother sewed shoes. Her mother would often bring pairs of shoes home for the family to help sew together at night. Martincevic argues that experiencing financial insecurity as children may be driving younger workers to reconsider traditional work. 

“Gen Z and millennials see work very differently. Some of it may be that they entered the workforce [during the Great Recession] when they saw their parents struggle, whether that was by losing jobs or losing their houses,” says Martincevic. “They just don’t see job security in the way former generations did. And they don’t see employer loyalty in the same way. And so what we see with Gen Z and millennials is that they prioritize financial security over tying themselves up to one employer.”

Why ‘poly-employment’ may be 2024’s next big work trend

A final potential reason that poly-employment may be increasing is because the stigma around working more than one job is decreasing. In the recent past, workers have felt the need to hide their secret side jobs. However, it appears to be increasingly acceptable for workers to openly share with their employers that they do consulting, or freelance work, on the side. In fact, having a portfolio of consulting work, or a quirky side hustle, is now often celebrated by employers.  

The polyamory metaphor

These same reasons—declining stigma, the pursuit of flexibility, and the desire to do things differently than a previous generation—may also explain why polyamory has recently increased. 

Elisabeth Sheff, a relationship coach and CEO of Sheff Consulting, who works multiple jobs herself and specializes in offering counseling to polyamorous couples, says that she has noticed an increase in the number of clients who have multiple jobs and who are interested in polyamory. Sheff says technology also makes it easier for workers to apply to multiple jobs—and for people to learn more about polyamory.  

“There are many different parallels between polyamory and poly-work,” says Sheff. “I see a lot of people gravitating toward multiple jobs as a way to meet multiple needs. Like, let’s say one job meets some of your needs—your need for socializing and your need for a fun work environment—but maybe doesn’t give health insurance. So then you get a different job.”

However, this may be where the metaphor ends. 

“In polyamorous relationships, ideally it’s very mutual. Everyone is getting some serious benefits from it,” says Sheff. “Whereas in the work world, it has become really abundantly clear that employers benefit quite a bit, and want a lot of loyalty from their employees, but don’t give their employees the same kind of loyalty back.”

“Alex” is a multimedia creative director, designer, and photographer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They argue that while working multiple jobs often comes from a place of financial scarcity, polyamorous relationships typically aim to operate from a place of abundance. 

“To me [poly-employment] sounds like a gentrification of the term ‘freelancer’ or ‘independent worker,’ which is fine,” says Alex. “This is clearly emblematic of the ways in which the notion of ‘poly’ has permeated into our culture at large and specifically amongst the creative class.”

As Karunanethy puts it, the term “multi-job-holder” just “doesn’t sound as sexy.”

Fast Company – work-life