Daniel DiGriz: So we’re here today to talk about whether or not it’s unethical or at least ethically dubious to work on the side when you have an employer, especially if you don’t tell your employer. And Steve, I believe that you have a thing or two to say about that.
Steve Pruneau: Since today’s all about the ethics of the side hustle or what used to be called moonlighting, brought me back to the TV show. It really got me thinking about what is it that has this lingering feeling in many of us of, we should be loyal to, we should commit to, the company. Where did it start? And I think a lot of it starts in the interview with questions that sort of probe around what kind of personal sacrifice can you make? How dedicated will you be? For example, scheduling, travel, after hours work, all the things related to, what am I going to commit? What can you do for Steve? So somehow the socialization starts early.
Daniel DiGriz: Yeah, I remember when I was a younger man and I got tired of doing job interviews. They always felt like I was going somewhere with my hat in my hand, and so I started going into places and when they would ask why I’m there I would say, “I’m interviewing companies I’d like to work with, I’m here to conduct an interview.” It’s funny, actually. I got a position that way that lasted a while. They even created a job for me because they thought it was audacious and they were honored that I wanted to work there. I was like, “Yeah, this is great.” So it works. Flip the script on them. But the assumption is, no, of course we’re an impenetrable fortress and you take your hat off, come in with your application, and it starts the process. It’s the beginning when we become excessively loyal.
Steve Pruneau: Yeah. In my opinion, it goes way back to the fifties. The age of the organization man, which is William White’s book written in 1956, talking about the commitment that people make of themselves to the company. But that was at a time when we had economic expansion, long product life cycles, you could have a long run of a career, and even had pensions. So yeah, it comes from that, I think, and all those things that you talked about, the impenetrable fortress, the concepts of what can you do for us?
Daniel DiGriz: I like White’s book, The Organization Man. It kind of asserts that we assume that collectives make better decisions than individuals do, and therefore we tend to prioritize the advancement of the organization over the advancement of the individual and his or her own creativity. That becomes the source of loyalty. If that assumption is not true, if it’s not true that collectives make better decisions than individuals, and that certainly is being called into question today, then it’s not true. Then it’s certainly not unethical to shift the balance a little bit.
I want to say that not only do we see sort of the growth of flat hierarchies in corporations, and the realization that more management and more organization doesn’t make it better, but even the military, the most hierarchal traditional organization on the planet, is finding this out. General Stanley McChrystal, during the Iraq War, he wrote this book that talks about the fact that our sort of traditional hierarchy of control actually hindered the conduct of our American operations. Al Qaeda would disrupt the organized American military and win, so the solution was decentralize the authority down to highly trained individuals and teams. Again, that’s sort of what made us effective. So again, this assumption that the collectives are better at decisions comes from the same time when, okay, we could accept that assumption just because, in fact, we do get all of the benefits and support of, like the military, of the corporate organizations supporting us. We got the pension and we got the long term forty year career, so we didn’t have to question.
Steve Pruneau: And as you say, those themes have faded away and we’ve evolved over decades, so where that foundation of the relationship is kind of gone, yet we still have CEOs and the annual report, and their press releases referring to their organization how? The corporate family. All our associates are part of the corporate family to grow and thrive. And it’s that continued socialization, but not really acknowledging, “Yeah, but we don’t have the careers and the pensions from the 1950’s.” So I’m making the case, you can tell, it’s shifted. It’s no longer a two way street, in my opinion, and that changes the ethics of, “Is it okay to work on the side, is it okay to look after yourself instead of the organization?”
Daniel DiGriz: Oh, yeah. It used to drive me crazy when I would go for a job interview, and I would hear the phrase, the statement, “We are family, we think of ourselves as a family.” I’m like, “Wow, so you’re asking for an incredible level of commitment.” It was all about fit and about being selfless, like you would for your mom or your kids, your family, and what was funny about it is, I never felt that the organization was that selfless and loyal to me. It was a request that I sort of act as though I’m only as good as … It’s sort of like a Mafia family. I’m only as good today as what I’ve earned. But they want my loyalty in the same way a family would be loyal,
It reminds me, Steve, of how natural ecologies work. In a natural ecological system, it’s all about mutual exchange of value, and you can’t have it be very lopsided. You have to have similar degrees of value. It’s got to be balanced. And part of the value we give each other is commitment. So if one party is super committed, and another party not very, we sense the imbalance. It almost feels unethical. But ethical from an ecological standpoint is when both parties are either equally loyal, as one could say the organization was back in the 1950’s when there was all these extra supports build in, or equally loyal as they are now, as they are today where the relationships are more tenuous. We need to adjust our sense of loyalty, including our commitment to what hours we give the employer, and where our brand loyalties lie, et cetera, to the fact that the relationship really is more tenuous on both sides.
Steve Pruneau: Yeah. Well, there’s a veneer over that, those realities that you’re describing. And even today we have corporate events, annual parties, get togethers. My brother called this forced fun. It’s not optional, right? Even though it’s a non-work activity and we’re socializing, getting to know each other and so forth, trying to build a team ethic. If you don’t go, you’re kind of looked at as the black sheep. It’s required. So I love this phrase, forced fun. For people … When I get into a conversation with people who still have this sort of lingering doubt about, “Well, you know, I’m not sure. Is it okay?” Here’s where I put a stake in the ground, and it’s this. Just about all of our employment agreements and all fifty states recognize a legal concept called at-will employment, which basically is this. It’s the legal arrangement, it’s a term used in U.S. labor law for contractual relationships in which an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason, that is, without having to establish just cause for termination, and without warning. So that’s the underlying legal basis for our employment relationship in spite of however many Christmas parties or however many social events, team building exercises. Bottom line is, the relationship says, sorry Steve, we can release you at any time for any reason.
Daniel DiGriz: I actually have left employers when I needed to. I always try to give a couple weeks notice, even a month’s notice, and sometimes that was good for me, but when I needed to make a move, you need to move suddenly across the country and tackle a project that’s in process, sometimes two weeks is a lot, so I actually would say … Look, people would question the ethics of leaving without much notice, and I would say, “They can terminate me at will, without any notice and for any reason, so if we’re really being ethical that means being equal. Being fair. So that means I can leave at any time for any reason as well. And if I give something over and above that, it’s grace. It’s not a requirement.
But I think this brings us back around full circle to the point of, is it ethical to work on the side? And it’s one thing to have the ethics of whether you can leave a job without notice, or the ethics of loyalty itself, but it’s another to determine yes, you can take multiple … You can take your own sort of clients while you’re working at the company. And of course, in a previous episode we talked about the side hustle and what it is, and how it works, and how to make it practically manageable. But on the ethics side I would say that what we’re concluding, Steve, is from an ecological standpoint it’s not unethical. It’s ethical. It’s ethical to balance the commitments we make to each other and have them be equitable. From the standpoint of a philosophical premise that the organization is more effective than individuals, we don’t find that’s true. Even organizations don’t find this true anymore. And so there’s no philosophical basis for it being unethical.
Then from a legal basis, as you just cited, it’s not unethical. So when it boils down to it we’re talking about, that you’ve got to feed yourself. In a bacterial environment where every part of the ecosystem depends on exchange of value, everything has also got to eat. And you’ve got to eat. So working on the side becomes ethical to yourself. It’s like, put the oxygen mask on yourself first. I would actually reverse the question, Steve. I would say not only is it not unethical, or ethically dubious to work on the side, and not necessarily telling your employer I don’t think is required, but I would say it’s unethical not to. If that’s what you need to take care of yourself and advance your own personal creative vision, don’t assume the organization is going to do that.
Steve Pruneau: Yes. I love that. There are a couple of tips that I want to draw a distinction between the ethics of it and rules of play, or legal issues. In the employment agreement there are often clauses, non-compete clauses and non-disclosure clauses. So there are some rules of play that make working on a side hustle feasible, and so let me just mention them very quickly. Number one, non-compete, which means don’t go after clients that your company has, for your own side business. And don’t try to conduct a business or a consulting practice that is in direct competition with your company. It needs to be something a little bit different.
Secondarily, non-disclosure, which means don’t use proprietary information that your company is in possession of to conduct your own business. Both of those are legally sound. Let’s forget about ethics. That is protected. That said, those aren’t very difficult boundaries to get past and there’s a whole open field out there to conduct your independent consulting practice. With those boundaries in mind, released from any lingering, what I would say, inappropriate ethical considerations. Inappropriate meaning, you just explained why it shouldn’t be a consideration. Then off we go to, “Well, how do we do the side hustle, and how do we get on with it?”
Daniel DiGriz: With that we need to wind down the episode, so Steve will be talking in the future, more about the side hustle and some of the other issues that come up when considering it.
May contain transcriber errors.