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Comedian Harith Iskander is well-known for his many talents. According to his recent Twitter post, his various pursuits — as a comedian, an emcee, a writer, a coach, an actor and possibly many others — although distinct, don’t count as multiple jobs. Meanwhile, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng considers himself, in an almost conceited manner, as holding a single job, that is to serve people, despite holding several positions.

Whatever the term used over the weekend’s drama over holding second jobs, it only shows that we now live in an age where the distinction between a job, a role, a post, a career or even a source of income can get terribly blurred.

If a job really takes a whole day, as what Harith has claimed, doesn’t part-time work count as a job? What actually is a ‘job’?

Lest we get buried in further confusion, let’s take a closer look at the current realities. Many people earn a living by working at a single place for a single employer during defined working hours. Then there are people who can’t make ends meet with such an arrangement and so need to engage in extra work to complement their main earnings.

Moonlighting (working another job after the main work hours) or daylighting (doing other jobs during work hours) are the options commonly pursued out of necessity.

Because extra work is often associated with extra hours and commitment issues, employers don’t take moonlighting and daylighting favourably. The Malaysian Employers Federation was quick to warn that workers could get their services terminated by undertaking a second job, arguing that it reduces productivity and compromises employees’ focus on their jobs. The Malaysian Trade Union Congress said that having multiple employments threatens health and reduces quality time with family. Its secretary-general even strongly urged employers to say ‘No’ to allowing workers to hold multiple jobs.

I wonder if it’s the person making a remark instead of the remark itself that matters more. Otherwise, Charles Handy would not have been able to get away with his idea of portfolio careers and how it can maximise one’s talents and competencies. Harith’s job, whatever he calls it, is an example of a portfolio career. Portfolio workers also include those who hold lawful employment contracts with multiple companies. KPMG found that 63 per cent of business leaders in its survey believe that portfolio workers will gain mainstream commercial acceptance within the next 10 years. Marci Alboher argued that multiple careers is a new model for success in work and life.

Examples abound, whether it’s a history teacher who has a knack for photography; a lawyer who has a passion in singing; or a general manager who loves baking. Many people leverage their interests and talents to generate income without compromising their health or work-life balance.

In addition, the slowdown in business environment means that having a single career is not a productive use of time.

A couple of weeks ago, I used a mobile app to hail a ride with a driver who happens to own a water management consultancy. By coincidence, my next driver was an owner of a market research company.

Don’t even get me started on working mothers. They certainly work at least two jobs every day.

We need to wake up to the new realities in working practices. For a long time, the notion of a single-income source has been highly romanticised. But, some entrepreneurship gurus are encouraging aspiring entrepreneurs to keep their full-time jobs while their businesses grow to maintain financial stability. In this day and age, technology and connectivity enable workers to manage multiple roles while keeping conflicts with employers at a minimum.

We need to recognise that people engage in multiple jobs for different reasons. Some do it by choice and find it highly rewarding. Others work a second job out of necessity.

It can be either a blessing or a curse.

Both sides of last week’s debate have valid points, especially on fixing the economy.

However, politicising this complex issue is absolutely unnecessary. Implying that people who are in need of a second job as ‘losing their dignity’, or sweepingly calling people who are engaged in multiple jobs as ‘economic slaves’ are unhelpful and condescending at best and insulting at worst.

Let’s instead focus on ensuring fair pay for all, and on ensuring that everyone can thrive, whether in a single or multiple jobs.

The writer is an independent researcher 

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