Most superheroes lead a double life. Spiderman supposedly clicks photographs for the Daily Bugle. Superman works for the daily Metropolis. Iron Man is a reel-life Elon Musk (if he were also a scientist). And Black Widow is a Russian spy no less (before she defected to the US).
Workers are simple earthly beings but many do juggle with more than one job. At times this is necessitated because their remuneration from the primary job is not enough to support their own or the family’s expenses.
They may also do so for various other reasons, like being ‘benched’ as a reserve in a technology services company with a lot of time at hand and doing nothing but going through corporate training presentations.
Others in more prosaic jobs, with much more free time like teaching, may do for a combination of both—employed by a coaching institute in the evening after school or college.
The gig economy only pushed the phenomena as young workers who work night shifts in the BPO industry suddenly figured they have a lot of time during the day, to deliver parcels for instance. Everybody loves the extra bucks.
A survey, conducted by Kotak Institutional Equities covering the IT and ITeS space, revealed that 65% of those surveyed knew of people pursuing part-time opportunities or ‘moonlighting’ while working from home. So, it was not surprising that the survey also said that only half of the people surveyed are open to working from office more than thrice a week. The proportion of people willing to go back to a five-day week was at a meagre 1%!
What’s an even bigger headache for human resource (HR) managers is that 42% of the respondents said they would consider changing their jobs or even quitting if they were not allowed to work from home.
It is, of course, far easier for people in the technology sector to do moonlighting. Many of them are anyways coding or working on standalone tech projects for third-party clients within a grouped set of skills.
There are inherent problems with this as the primary employer may suffer if the worker is not resting physically enough because he or she is two-timing within the 24 hours.
This has, therefore, created a heated debate in the industry related to ethics, legality of the practice and more.
For and against
Software services major Wipro sacked around 300 employees for ‘moonlighting’, in sync with its chairman Rishad Premji’s stance on the subject.
Premji has been vocal about his opposition to the concept of moonlighting is a ‘complete violation of integrity in its deepest form’, he said at a recent AIMA event.
In the previous month, too, he had flagged the problem and tweeted: “There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating – plain and simple.”
There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating – plain and simple.
— Rishad Premji (@RishadPremji) August 20, 2022
Wipro’s bigger peer Infosys, too, shot down a stern message to its employees, prohibiting them from indulging in such activity. Global tech major IBM, which has around one-third of its nearly 3 lakh employees in India, also joined the chorus.
The COO of Tata Consultancy Services has called it an ethical issue. However, a Mint Twitter poll showed two in three respondents felt moonlighting is ethical.
But others have a contrarian view.
Harpreet Singh Saluja, President of Nascent Information Technology Employees Senate (NITES), an organisation representing IT workers, says tech firms taking umbrage over moonlighting are forgetting their own history.
“Going back to history, moonlighting is not a new thing. Infosys founder Narayan Murthy was working with Patni Computer Systems when he founded Infosys. At the same time, if you’ll go with startups, Flipkart was founded by Sachin and Binny Bansal while they were working for Amazon. Freshdesk, which got listed on Nasdaq last year, was found by Girish Mathrubootham while he was working for Zoho Corporation,” he told a news publication.
In the gig industry, food delivery startup Swiggy, went a step ahead and came up with a formal moonlighting policy. It allowed its employees to take up side work or projects outside their regular employment at the company, after office hours.
But, perhaps the most significant statement that has divided opinion in the tech industry over the trend came from Tech Mahindra chief CP Gurnani, a big name in the industry and leader of one of the biggest players in the sector.
He gave a thumbs up to employees being allowed to pick extra work and observed candidly that he might make moonlighting a policy in his own company if he is given a chance.
“If you go by my word if someone is meeting the efficiency and productivity norms, and he wants to make some extra money as long as he is not committing fraud, he is not doing something against the values and ethics of his company, I have no problem. I would like to make it a policy. So, if you want to do it, cheers to that, but be open about it,” he said.
Those in the ‘for’ pack of the debate also got a high five from Union Minister of State for Electronics and IT and Skill Development Rajeev Chandrashekhar. The minister said: “Today’s youngsters have every sense of confidence and purpose about wanting to monetise, create more values…So, the efforts of companies that want to pin their employees down and say that you should not work on your own startup are doomed to fail.”
He was largely referring to IT sector workers who could be trying to break out and become an entrepreneur. Most such tech startups are born while the founders are likely already working in a company.
The minister, however, agreed that moonlighting should not be in violation of any contractual obligations with the existing employer. He also shared his two cents and predicted a time will come when there will be a community of product builders who will divide their time on multiple projects: “Just like lawyers or consultants do. This is the future of work.”
Two-timing employers during and after the day’s work is not something that took birth during the Covid-19 pandemic. But it did scale significantly as people started working outside the confines of the set workplace.
As workplaces start moving back to pre-pandemic this could partly stem the phenomena. But as several employee surveys show, the tech talent has been inclined for more flexibility in their workflow, preferring at least a few days—if not all working days—as a work-from-home system.
Given the great resignation tsunami and attrition, especially in the technology space, companies are now walking a tightrope on how to manage their employees’ need for flexibility and an intent to dissuade them from moonlighting.