Moonlighting has changed. Holding down several jobs has quadrupled in a generation according to Statistics Canada and the reasons are predictable. Many will cite the difficulties of making ends meet as the reason they began moonlighting but the reasons do shift over time.

What begins as a way to meet day to day needs, or pay off heavy debt loads morphs into a way to save should their primary employment dry up. Planning for retirement, major purchases or the niceties of an additional vacation are also often cited.

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Pierre Battah says employees having second jobs can be tricky. (Pierre Battah)

A surprising number of respondents to my unscientific, statistically invalid research claimed they also moonlight to help their social lives, get a needed change of scenery or because it's a habit.

Many recent graduates began their careers with a string of seasonal, contractual and part-time jobs before ever landing full time employment.

Secondary employment can be problematic. Bosses take issue with the risk of conflict of interest in working for a supplier or competitor, of reduced capacity to work safely, of reduced availability for overtime or damaging the employer's reputation depending on the nature of the moonlighting.

Employees risk their health through sleep deprivation and work life balance by spending too much time away from family or personal obligations.

Spread too thin?

The ultimate risk for workers is not being able to do their primary jobs well and jeopardizing their principal employment.

The impact is especially felt by employers when moonlighting employees routinely arrive late or leave early, when absenteeism results or when there is a hit to productivity.

Worse yet is the case related to me by a worker that because his supervisor is such a poor delegator in spite of frequent unsuccessful requests for more work, he works on his part-time job on his other employer's time.

Moonlighting policies are OK, but broader conflict of interest guidelines are a better option. They outline specific concerns such as competitive activity, confidentiality or availability for work. This of course must be done within what is legal and by respecting an employee's privacy.

The overriding principle for employers is straightforward. If the employee's secondary employment does not harm the employee's job performance, outside employment should be fair ball.

As one employer related to me recently, as long as there is no effect on performance, availability or his reputation as an employer he supports his staff's outside work. He commented that it can build skills and networks to everyone's benefit.

He talks openly about conflict of interest; trusts staff implicitly and would rather not know about the specifics of their moonlighting. It is a need to know situation for him and he feels he doesn't need to know unless things are not going well.

For employees, however, it is likely a good idea to have a conversation with their primary employer regardless of whether formal policies exist or not regarding moonlighting. Not all employers function on a strictly need to know basis.