Gen Zers are now ‘polyworking’ because holding down just one job doesn’t pay enough or give them the flexibility they want

March 20, 2023, 1:03 PM UTC
A multiscreen worker working into the evening
The days of loyally working for one employer are well and truly dead.
Edwin Tan—Getty Images

Traditionally, people would find a vocation they enjoyed (and that paid a decent wage) and steadily climb the ranks, dedicating their career progression to one employer.

But as the cost of living has increased, wages stagnated and people took to working longer (making it harder for younger workers to progress into senior roles), professionals today aren’t waiting for their boss to promote them.

Instead, they’re taking matters into their own hands: After years of job hopping and, more recently, the explosion of side hustles, workers now are splitting their time across numerous employers—at once.

The phenomenon of working two or more jobs, called polyworking, came about as people seized the opportunity to take on multiple full-time roles while they were working from home.

Without a tiresome commute, getting from one job to another is as easy as signing into your computer for your second shift of the day—and it’s why, according to new research, a third of workers are holding down three or more jobs.

Who is most likely to be juggling jobs? 

Paychex surveyed over 1,000 American workers to find out who is most likely to be juggling multiple jobs, and the impact it’s having on workers.

They found that while 40% of workers overall currently have two jobs, this number rises to 46% of Gen Zers. 

And not only are the youngest generation of workers the most likely to be holding down two jobs—they’re also even more likely to be splitting their time between three or more employers; a full 47% hold down three or more jobs, according to Paychex—meaning that 93% of Gen Zers are holding down multiple gigs.

Meanwhile, 33% of millennials are holding down three or more jobs, compared to 28% of baby boomers and 23% of Gen X professionals. 

Freelance and remote workers were the most likely to report being employed at multiple firms.

Plus, some industries are more conducive to polyworking than others: Computer and technology sector workers are most likely to have multiple income streams. These workers are likely to also take on extra work in other fields, mostly within the health care industry. Meanwhile, the researchers also found an overlap with finance workers taking on extra shifts in the retail and education sectors.

What’s more, they don’t plan on giving up their second or third jobs any time soon.

Around half of the respondents said they plan to polywork indefinitely—and the older respondents were, the more likely they were to see juggling jobs as a long-term solution as opposed to a means to an end. 

Their motivation varies, according to the research: “Without multiple income streams, Gen Xers and millennials most fear the possibility of having to move to a new home,” the report claims. “While baby boomers are particularly worried about their inability to keep up with inflation.”

Overall, flexibility, additional income, and freedom were the biggest benefits cited among polyworkers.

So to entice young workers—the generation most likely to be guilty of polyworking—into committing to one firm, the report suggests employers “consider offering them financial security, flexibility and be open to contract work, while emphasizing your company’s commitment to authenticity and diversity.”

Polyworking is taking its toll on workers

Although more financial freedom and the chance to have multiple creative outlets should spell increased happiness for polyworkers, the research shows that’s not necessarily the case.

The researchers compared those working multiple jobs with one-job workers and found that polyworkers are more likely to feel burned out, stressed, and uninspired. Although they’re slightly more satisfied with their work-life balance, polyworkers are also significantly less productive and report that they’d feel healthier in another role.   

And whether or not you’re one of the 40% of workers who are polyworking, the toll of the trend undoubtedly impacts you. 

The same portion of your colleagues or staff could be working in this new way—and they’re likely to be less dedicated to their job. Meanwhile, the ripple effect on the wider workforce if 40% of their peers are unproductive or unhappy shouldn’t be overlooked.

The 200 managers who were surveyed also reported that polyworkers don’t stick around as long, are slower at learning and developing skills, demonstrate poor organization, and are difficult to integrate into the company culture.

As a result, they concluded that polyworkers are more difficult to manage than those with a more traditional setup. 

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