Weeks after Rishad Premji, Wipro's executive chairman termed moonlighting as cheating, his views have been creating waves across India Inc, especially the IT industry. While having a second job or a side gig has always been an open secret, Wipro’s sacking of 300 employees has got everyone talking about why employees moonlight and what it means for businesses, startups in particular.
Amid margin squeezing and high employee costs, the tech industry has recently witnessed IT majors scaling back the average variable payout of employees to about 70 percent for the June quarter. Moreover, layoffs by several global conglomerates like Meta, Tesla, Ford, Netflix and Cognizant in the past year have created an environment of growing fear and lack of trust among employees. All of this has put ethical obligations and commitment of employees under the scanner. Not only this, the popularity of remote working has enabled employees to increase or double their income by moonlighting, or taking up two jobs at the same time.
Why do employees moonlight?
In India, employees always feel they are underpaid. Some are genuinely underpaid, some are not. However, side hustle is a constant conversation among employees, as they are always looking to raise their income. Many of these employees indulge in stock market trading or skilled games to boost their income as well.
Many employees witnessed pay cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic. But beyond the pay cuts, we are also an aspirational economy. India's booming entrepreneurial economy has got everyone dreaming of owning a venture. Moreover, with a growing number of start-up founders generating enormous wealth, many budding entrepreneurs are now clamouring to identify and fill existing market gaps with successful brands of their own.
As a matter of fact, I know of many people in well-paid jobs building a venture on the sidelines. Their employers continue to retain them, aware yet in denial. Is this ethical? The truth is that most of them have no immediate replacements since talent retention is a major issue plaguing the industry today. However, in some cases, lack of ‘empowerment’ is often cited as one of the root causes for them to moonlight.
Legal grounds aside, many ask if moonlighting is morally and ethically correct. Is having two jobs the right thing to do on moral grounds? Everyone's definition of what's moral and ethical is different. In my opinion, as long as both parties know that the person is simultaneously working at two places as a shared resource, it should not be a problem. If the roles are non-conflicting, clearly defined and there is clear distinction between both roles, I don’t see why anyone should have an issue.
Should moonlighting be legalised?
Startups who are in favour of moonlighting are now trying to legalise it to ensure they are removing silt from the sand. It’s a similar step to how the media houses started advertorial features and promotional pull outs in the past to keep a check on journalists who were taking bribes and plugging stories, resulting in revenue loss for them.
Since moonlighting has become so common, then why not normalise it? However, the struggle to hire talent is real. India Inc, especially tech-focused start-ups, are struggling to retain professionals who are high in demand, difficult to please and tough to retain even in the short term. Such people are moonlighting anyway and it is difficult to stop them.
Simply put, moonlighting is nothing but full-time professionals turning part-time consultants. Now how do employers allow a full-time employee to legally moonlight? If corporates do allow moonlighting, I foresee those companies revising legal contracts of such professionals. They will make them part of their gig workforce with win-win benefits and compensation being doled out, on a deliverable focused model, while full-time workers will receive other relevant benefits, as they are privy to confidential information, as well have higher accountability towards the business and its customers.
So once moonlighting is legalised, one will see a lot of clauses included in such worker's contracts that protects the company's proprietary information, reputation and assets.
Just to give you an example of Onsurity, which provides health and wellness benefits to employers for the retention of their workforce, has already a huge chunk of their program being availed by gig workers. Much like drivers becoming independent entrepreneurs through Uber, Zomato, Swiggy or Ola, the number of techies and other professionals turning into gig entrepreneurs will only increase. In future, as the demand-supply mismatch stabilises, we will see performance-oriented contracts for these emerging gig workers.
Is moonlighting the future of the workplace?
According to a newspaper survey, 64.5% of the respondents considered moonlighting ethical, while only 23.4% opposed it. I believe that moonlighting can have an adverse impact on the mental and physical well-being of employees because they have more than one job. But isn’t that for an individual to consider? Everyone's definition of workload differs. If the employees are transparent in their conduct, they definitely won't have any guilt. This will enable them to improve their performance and holistic well-being too.
Just as flexible hours, Work from Home & hybrid working have become a workplace norm, the moonlighting trend is here to stay. It will only grow, evolve and become an acceptable model in the coming days.
(The author is founder, CommsCredible.)