Why Moonlighting Will Hurt Your Career

I always try to work hard, create something meaningful, and be rewarded for it. I know that you and many others do as well. So, that is why I am actively involved in talking with good people about Aha! I want to connect with those people. Interviewing new Aha!s who want to join our team takes a lot of time, but it is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.

But lately we are seeing an interesting phenomena among the resumes — emails like this one from Mary (name changed):

Hi Brian! — I lead marketing at a local company, but I am really interested in bringing in some leads for your company as sort of a side gig. I’m not suggesting a monthly commitment or anything of that nature. You and I could agree on a fair price for every new lead that I bring and I will give you first dibs exclusively, of course. Let me know what you think!

You may wonder, “Well, what is wrong with earning an extra buck on the side?”

Let me clarify — this article is not about a person who is struggling to make ends meet and takes on an evening or weekend job to earn extra income. It is honorable to work an extra job when you are putting yourself through school or have family depending on you. Many people do and should be celebrated for their sacrifice and commitment. The email that we received above is about something totally different.

I am talking about well-paid professionals who already have a day job, yet moonlight at a similar job or use an asset from their day job on the side, unbeknownst to their primary employer. They likely know it is unethical because most try to keep it a secret. Yet they do it anyway, and it is usually for the money. Show me the cash.

If you are considering this idea, you will do yourself and your main employer a disservice. Here is why moonlighting is a bad move for everyone concerned.

Divides loyalty
If you are a full-time employee, your employer is expecting your best effort. But how can you realistically deliver on that commitment if you are moonlighting at another job? You are no longer devoted to your primary employer’s goals 100 percent, and you probably will not be able to hide that fact for very long. The quality of your work will likely suffer — and others will notice that you seem a bit distracted.

Breaches trust
Trust is paramount in the workplace; your employer and coworkers are counting on you to be upfront and honest in your work. Moonlighting not only breaks that trust but will make others wonder what else you might be hiding. It also calls into question your willingness to protect company secrets and customer relationships.

Jeopardizes career
When your secret eventually comes out, you may wind up getting fired for it. Moonlighting likely breaks any employment contract that you might have signed when you were hired. And your decision can also damage your future career prospects (you are bound to raise a few eyebrows when you try to explain it to potential employers).

I understand the value of earning a few extra dollars. But when you moonlight, you cheat your employer and the rest of the team out of your best work. That trust is difficult to rebuild once it is gone. Ask yourself — is it really worth it?

Remember — your integrity is worth much more than any extra money you might earn by moonlighting. Don’t wreck a good thing — invest your time, talents, and energy in the job that you have, and steer far away from selling your services elsewhere.

What do you think of moonlighting?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. Sam

    In my view, this is too extreme. It appears to be based on outdated and questionable ethical notions about what an employee is. In my mind, employees are never slaves, serfs, or anything close. They are entirely autonomous individuals who are free to make money however they can, as long as it is within ethical and legal parameters. Regardless of what it has meant in the past, the duty of loyalty should never be leveraged to limit human potential.

    If an employee violates the letter or spirit of an employment agreement, then of course, the employer can take whatever disciplinary actions they see fit. Employers should clearly communicate that you can be fired for moonlighting when they are hired. This is something sorely lacking in most agreements I have signed.

    You might think that I’ve done a lot of moonlighting and continue to. That is not the case. I have done very little. In my mind, I have always been within the bounds of my employment agreements. I studied the agreements and relevant law carefully.

  2. Ed Henderson

    Many years ago, an employer was as faithful to the employee as the employee was to the employer. Those days, sadly, are long gone. There are very few employers out there that have any loyalty to the employee. You work for them as long as it is in THEIR best interest, and no longer.

    So, to be ‘loyal’ to the employer, is a one-sided street, and you are most likely to get hit head on for your efforts. An employment contract involved providing some service to your employer, in exchange for financial and other benefits (health, free food if applicable, etc). Beyond that, unless you work for someone pretty unique, I can’t see you owe them anymore than that.

    With that in mind, I do firmly agree that it is a major breach of ethics to “use the employers resources” in your own pursuits. So, while I can’t agree that “moonlighting is bad”, I can agree that it better be done on your own time, and with your own resources. Also, it better not be a conflict of interest — i.e. going after a market for yourself that, as an employee your current employer would expect you to be pursuing.

    The bottom line is, does what you are doing violate your legal agreements, and is it a conflict of interest in any way. Beyond that, Id say your own time is yours.


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