For decades, the employment relationship has been fairly straightforward: The employee completes tasks for the employer and then collects a paycheck.
More recently, the working landscape has begun to shift, and that seemingly straight line has become increasingly wavy. Sure, the employee might still complete tasks assigned by their employer. But they might also start up a side hustle. Or juggle two part-time jobs. Or pursue a cross-functional project. Or continue their education in the interest of going down an entirely different career path.
In short, today’s employees might not find the level of purpose, fulfillment, and development they want out of a single job with one company. This has given rise to an entirely new term: polygamous careers.
What exactly is a polygamous career?
If you’re familiar with polygamy in a romantic context, then the term “polygamous career” is pretty self-explanatory: Employees generate income through an assortment of jobs and projects, rather than growing their career with one employer at a time.
Polygamous careers, which are sometimes also known as “overemployment,” give workers the opportunity to hone new skills, fully leverage their knowledge, and pursue numerous interests at once. The emphasis is on contributing to various projects and roles, as opposed to working exclusively with a specific employer.
While this isn’t quite the norm yet, many experts predict that this approach will continue to spread across the workforce.
“I firmly believe that professional fulfillment will increasingly be the result of feeling fully utilized,” explains Scott Belsky, Adobe’s Chief Product Officer, in a piece for Business Insider. “The next generation of talent entering the workforce will overwhelmingly opt for what I've come to call ‘polygamous careers.’”
4 factors driving the push toward polygamous careers
What’s causing this shake-up of the traditional employer and employee dynamic? There are a number of potential factors at play, including:
Increased desire for learning and development: Workers don’t want to just punch the clock and go home – they want to expand their skill sets and advance their careers. Culture Amp research indicates that one in three employees cites a lack of growth as a top reason for leaving their jobs. Efforts like educational stipends, lunch and learns, and mentorship opportunities show an investment in development. But, polygamous careers give employees the chance to simultaneously explore different opportunities.
Shifting values and priorities: Even if workers didn’t participate in The Great Resignation, they certainly weren’t immune to The Great Reassessment, where employees reevaluated their own values and job satisfaction during the pandemic. 65% of employees in a Gartner survey admitted that the pandemic made them rethink the role of work in their lives. For those feeling unfulfilled in their current positions, diversifying their career, projects, and sources of income could be a logical next step.
Staffing shortages: “Help wanted” signs are seemingly everywhere and the labor market is increasingly tight, with the number of job openings continuously hitting new records. Many employers and HR teams are scrambling to fill positions and bridge skill gaps. Embracing the multi-faceted or polygamous career is one way for them to get talent through the door – even if they aren’t filling a traditional full-time position.
Growth in freelancing: Whether it’s fallout from The Great Reassessment or a response to the many layoffs at the start of the pandemic, freelancing has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2019, 28% of the workforce performed freelance work. In 2020, that number jumped to 36%. Some experts hypothesize that freelancers will make up the majority of the workforce by the year 2027, meaning employers will have to adjust the composition of their own labor force to match.
How polygamous careers will shift HR practices
The workforce is evolving – and your hiring practices need to follow suit. Here are a few things HR teams will need to change or consider as polygamous careers become more commonplace.
1. Ditch the exclusivity clause
Exclusivity clauses in employment contracts dictate that a worker’s position with the company will be their only form of employment. But, for people who wish to pursue polygamous careers, that level of rigidity will be a dealbreaker.
Removing the exclusivity clause doesn’t mean you’re necessarily unprotected, either. Requiring employees to sign a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement will ensure that your sensitive information is kept under wraps – without strict prohibitions barring employees from working elsewhere. If you’re worried that employees with multiple roles will be using company time to pursue a secondary job, you can also include clauses within your contracts that stipulate how company time and property should be used. Noncompete, nonsolicitation, and intellectual property policies are also recommended.
2. Go beyond the chronological resume
As Belsky says in that same Business Insider piece, “One's profession will be a portfolio of projects, whether you're a designer, engineer, salesperson, or investor.”
A traditional chronological resume feels outdated when workers are juggling a variety of professional projects and responsibilities at one time. Employers will need to find other ways to evaluate talent, including:
- Personal websites
- Recommendations and referrals
- Test projects
As polygamous careers continue to gain traction, these non-traditional “alternatives” will tell employers far more about the breadth of someone’s work experience than a standard one-page chronological resume.
3. Find talent in unique places
Workers won’t be left to pursue multifaceted careers on their own. Belsky says that technology will keep pace. There are already several platforms that empower workers to pursue the projects they want and employers to find the talent they need, including:
Braintrust: This platform is talent-owned, which means Braintrust doesn’t take a cut when matching freelancers with companies that need their services.
Polywork: While LinkedIn is more of a digital chronological resume, Polywork helps workers create profiles that highlight their skills, achievements, and milestones, with less emphasis on their past positions and employers.
As more workers take the polygamous route in their careers, they’ll build communities of their own. Employers can lean on their workers to tap into their personal networks and recommend others they know for projects and opportunities.
4. Embrace cross-skilling and job crafting
Even for workers that dedicate the bulk of their time and attention to your organization, there are things you can do to support their various interests.
Cross-skilling involves training employees in a variety of job functions. For example, you might train the sales team in some aspects of customer support. This gives workers the flexibility to expand their skills, explore other careers, and develop a greater understanding and appreciation of all of the aspects of your organization.
Job crafting involves employees in the process of designing their own careers – designating the tasks they will be responsible for, the goals they want to reach, and the people they will work with. Even if their position with your company is their only professional role, this gives employees the level of control and autonomy that they crave.
The workforce is changing – and you should too
It’s no secret that the desires and expectations of the workforce have drastically shifted in recent years – and they’ll continue to evolve.
Employers who knuckle down on archaic approaches and practices will struggle to hire and retain talent as workers seek out organizations that are better equipped to support and even fuel their multifaceted interests and passions.
The good news is that this push toward polygamous careers doesn’t have to represent the end of your engaged and committed team. In fact, handling this shift strategically could represent a bright new beginning.