(Bloomberg Businessweek) — The pandemic has untethered workers from their desks, opening lifelong 9-to-5ers to the possibility of quietly pursuing two or even three jobs full steam. Academics who study nonmonogamy say it shares myriad similarities with a multiplicitous professional life—and that many lessons can transfer from the bedroom (er, bedrooms) to the conference room. “The same dynamics broadly apply to all types of relationships, whether they’re professional, platonic, or romantic,” says Amy Moors, assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University. We asked researchers for tips on juggling various professional squeezes.
Figure out what everyone needs. Moors says a cornerstone skill of satisfied nonmonogamous people is the ability to identify others’ needs and wants, articulate their own, and negotiate: “figuring out what would work for everyone involved, and understanding that that can change over time.” This begins with recognizing that each relationship has its own nuances and mix tape. Think through your current boss hired you: Yes, of course she wanted you to work for her, but does she want you to be a workhorse, a source of status (awards, attention), a genius strategist, or professional arm candy? You can succeed only if you know what success looks like to both of you.
Communicate—but not about everything. Chez Jennings, a senior technical recruiter at Reddit, has been openly polyamorous for seven years. She says that in work and love, agreements go best when people can clearly articulate five things: availability, boundaries, expectations, capacity, and wants. To gain further insight, she asks why people partake in extracurriculars. “The ‘why’ gives insight into personality and adds an emotional component,” Jennings says. In the office, it’s best to couch your answers in what makes you great at your job. Rather than saying “I have this business where I sell crystals 10 hours a week,” try “Being connected to that side of my spirituality is really fulfilling to me, so I arrive here at work motivated and calm.”
Professional promiscuity can benefit everyone. Some people disappear into their job, handing over 40 (or 50 or 60) hours a week to a single employer. Monogamous couples practice a variation of this called “dyadic withdrawal,” where partners spend most of their time together, to the semi-exclusion of friends and family. As common as this is, it’s associated with less well-being, negative health outcomes, and isolation. “We don’t find that among people engaged in polyamory,” Moors says. “They have more robust social networks and are happier.” Similarly, your professional fulfillment can benefit from healthy co-worker relationships across jobs—and from the socializing and new faces each role provides.
Be transparent about time. Jennings says relationships and jobs alike implode when people aren’t forthright about their other activities. You may or may not want to know that your partner is off canoodling with someone else, but it’s nice to know when they’ll be around to canoodle with you. The workplace version is disappearing for hours at a stretch, to the consternation of colleagues or bosses. “People are hesitant to say they’re at another job, even when they’ve been totally upfront about that other commitment. But then they look like they’re hiding something,” Jennings says. She suggests explaining the situation: “Hey, there’s a fire I have to deal with at my consultancy, I’ll be online later tonight to catch up.”
Pick jobs as carefully as romantic partners. Experienced polyamorists typically choose lovers whose locations and lifestyles don’t clash with their existing relationships. Translation: Yeah, that jazz bassist is hot, but you’d burn yourself out with 2 a.m. rendezvous. The same applies to jobs. Needy employers who do things like call randomly or suddenly change workloads are the workplace equivalent of high-drama partners. An Oregon tech guy who’s currently juggling two high-paying positions (unbeknownst to his bosses) says it’s best to find work in time zones at least three hours apart to avoid conflicts and stagger the workday.
Understand the real causes of conflict. A key tenet of polyamory is compersion—the ability to find joy in your partners’ happiness, even if they’re finding happiness with other people. This can be tough for rookie polyamorists, who slowly learn that when romantic partners lash out about other activities, it’s often because they’re not getting enough attention of one kind or another. The same dynamic happens in the workplace: Bosses who are anxious about underperforming employees will inevitably start blaming other jobs. The key is to make sure you stay at the top of your game and meet bosses’ reasonable needs. “My strategy is to perform at such a high level that anything else I have going on is never called into question,” says Alyza Brevard-Rodriguez, a senior manager at New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority who also runs a pair of spas in New Jersey. “Whatever my role is, I meet the expectations.”