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My Other Job Is on City Council


by Barbara Ruland, Communications Specialist

Study of Multiple Job Holders Focuses on Elected Officials

Voters went to the polls recently, many of whom may have selected their local representatives, including unpaid roles for positions such as city council members.

Often city council members work a primary job in addition to their elected position. Recent research from two I-O psychologists suggests constituents may have a reason to take it easy on their city council members.

Just under 5% of the employed population of the United States has two or more jobs, according to data published in October by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Approximately 7.3 million people are working multiple jobs for a variety of reasons, only one of which is additional income.

Research presented at the 2017 SIOP Annual Conference by Nicholas Howald, a PhD student at Bowling Green State University (BGSU), and SIOP Fellow Michael Zickar, Professor and Chair of BGSU’s Department of Psychology, investigated this significant but largely unstudied segment of the working population through a sampling of municipal elected officials.

The correlational study, “Work to Work Spillover for Elected Officials” explored spillover, conflict, and enrichment between job roles, as well as life satisfaction. Spillover refers to the effect one role has on another, in terms of experiences, thoughts, and feelings.  

The study yielded preliminary insights about role interactions. Some of them are generalizable to any population navigating multiple work roles, while others are more specific to elected municipal officials. The latter still represents a significant number of people, whose work has highly significant impact on their communities. The US Census Department counted 19,519 municipalities in its Government Organization Summary Report: 2012

Most municipal officials serve for reasons other than money. A report from the National League of Cities says, “Council members typically receive modest compensation for their work, usually because they serve on a part-time basis.”

“It takes a lot of effort—and money, even—to run for local office,” said Zickar, who has served as a city council member and is currently chair of his county’s Democratic Committee. “Rarely would you do a cost-benefit analysis and say, ‘I’m going to do this!’ Almost all those analyses would say, ‘Don’t do it!’”

The research he and Nick Howald presented at the SIOP conference looked at elected officials of cities with populations between 30,000 and 250,000 people. They tested 9 hypotheses about boundaries, spillover, enrichment and conflict between job roles, and their effect on life satisfaction. The researchers collected 126 online survey responses from email requests sent to 628 people, a response rate of 20%. Respondents ranged from 21 to 79 years of age, with 52 being the median. 58 of the respondents indicated they were male and 33 indicated female.

Nick Howald thinks one of the reasons so many council members responded to the researchers’ request is a lack of recognition for their work. He said, “Most people only look up their city councilman if they have a problem. That’s the only reason they even know their name.” The researchers got some emails from respondents telling them how excited they were to help, “and to have their voices heard.”

Interestingly, job-to-job enrichment, one of the subjects of this study, contributed to the choice of its sample population.

Zickar, Robert E. Gibby, and Tim Jenny published a study on “Job Attitudes of Workers with Two Jobs” in 2004.

“We were studying just anybody who was working multiple jobs, and it took a lot of effort to get a decent sample of people who were working more than one job, because there’s no association of moonlighters or anything like that,” Zickar said. “I was on City Council at the time, and I don’t know when, but it dawned on me that for everyone on city councils across the country, it’s public record, and their emails are almost always accessible. And almost everyone on city council is working multiple jobs.”

The study examined the effect of the respondent’s part time, secondary job on their primary job, Howald and Zickar found that “Both stress and satisfaction in the council job role lead to spillover in the primary job role. However, this spillover does not appear to lead to stress and satisfaction in the primary job itself.” They did find that spillover between jobs is related, both positively and negatively, to life satisfaction, and that job similarity leads to positive spillover. The research results also indicated that role boundary strength moderates the spillover effect.

Prior to this work, research on populations holding multiple jobs had been limited. There had been some psychological studies of teachers, who often work a second job in the summer.

“Most of the other research in this area is from the economics side of things,” Howald said. “Looking at the economic reasons someone would want to have a second job, things like that. There’s not a lot of research that looks at the underlying psychological processes.”

As the economy changes, more workers are finding themselves managing the demands of two jobs. Others are juggling their schedules to include work, family, and school commitments as they retrain for the evolving workplace.

Howald contends consideration of employees with multiple “work” roles should also include students, because being a student is often their primary role. And more workers are returning to school to re-tool for their next job, often while working hold a full-time job.

“I think if you get stressed out at school one day and you have to go directly to work, that could really affect your performance at work, your attitudes and emotions,” he said.

Citing the trend toward the “gig economy” Zickar said, “I think the subject is becoming more important as people become less wedded to a single employer, for better or worse.”

Workers with multiple jobs face more stressors than those who have a single job, he added.

“If you’re working 40 hours a week through two jobs as opposed to one, the former is always going to be more stressful because you’ve got multiple roles that you’re juggling,” Zickar continued. “You’ve got added commuting time, and all that.”
The list of stressors includes scheduling, employer policies, time reporting, taxes, and more.

“And it doubles when you work two jobs,” Zickar concluded.

When someone’s second job is as an elected official, your constituents’ understanding of your role—or the lack of it—can make the job especially stressful.

“One of the secret facts is that being in local government is really stressful, and people in those roles can’t really communicate that,” Zickar said. “They can’t complain to the newspaper; nobody wants to read that. They can’t oftentimes even complain to their spouses and partners, because they may not be supportive of the role.”

Zickar recalled an incident from his term on city council.

“I got a call at 9 o’clock at night from a constituent really upset about a zoning issue, of all things,” he said.” They were really, really, visibly upset, and I did’t blame them. But in my mind, I’m listening to what they’re telling me and I’m also thinking, ‘Gosh, I have to teach statistics tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning,’” he finished with a laugh.

Zickar’s first study included a CPA doing balloon parties for kids on the weekends.

“I don’t really know the motivation for that, but I don’t think it was just money,” he said. Other examples of people doing second jobs for non-monetary reasons include: a chemical engineer who worked at a bookstore on the weekends to meet members of the opposite sex, and an I-O consultant who sold clothing at house parties to sharpen her sales skills.

The study presented at the 2017 Conference did show that second jobs can contribute to employees’ performance in their primary jobs, “and you see this a lot with the city council members,” Zickar said. There are so many opportunities for leadership development, budget management, and all kinds of things that somebody might not have in their primary job, that you could develop on council.”

Primary employers can benefit from supporting employees who have two jobs, unless the second job conflicts with the basic job requirements. Whether the reason for the second job is income or some other need, Zickar said, “If you have a boss at the first job who is supportive of the second work, then you’re going to have increased buy-in and commitment from your employee.”

Employees can be proactive about creating buy-in for their primary employer by discussing the second job with them. Zickar advises people to “have some candid conversations with your primary employer, about why you’re doing this. Talk about what you’re going to do to make it so it won’t interfere with your primary job,” he continued, “and how it might actually help with your primary job.”

Cautioning that he wants to further validate the research with a longitudinal study, Nick Howald said finding synergies and similarities between job roles can be a good way to ease the stress of having two jobs.

“Even if you can structure it so you’re using the same software, those kinds of technical skills for each job, that might help you,” he said. “That way you’re able to take experiences that you have in one role and apply them to the other.”

Failing that, he said, “If you can structure your two work roles so that they’re distinct, so you have a high boundary strength, that probably leads to less negative spillover to your primary job.”

For those whose second job is on city council, Zickar stressed setting personally appropriate boundaries.

“Set aside certain times of the week or day that you’re going to deal with city council matters. This is not full-time employment,” he suggested. Depending on their primary job, some people will be comfortable with more fluidity between roles, while others will need more rigid boundaries. “So feel comfortable and set the boundaries that are going to work for you and your primary job,” he concluded.

People need to remember that in most cases, elected municipal officials are not full time and are not doing the work for money, but for the greater good. “So have some empathy for our local officials, and don’t be upset if they don’t get back to you within an hour.” Zickar said. “Be upset if they don’t get back to you in a couple days. Cutting a little bit of slack is, I think, important.”

Howald and Zickar believe there are many possible directions for additional research in this area, including a longitudinal study to validate the findings from their work.

Contact Mike Zickar at mzickar@bgsu.edu
Reach Nick Howald at nhowald@bgsu.edu