The Curious Case of Moonlighting and Corporate India
Amidst IBM, Ferns N Petals, and other major companies coming out with strong warnings against moonlighting, the Indian workforce is rife with debate. But why is moonlighting causing ripples across all sectors? And why are employers and employees so concerned?
Growing up, it is instilled in us that cheating is inherently bad. But, experiences as adults teach that the world is not clearly defined in black and white, and ‘cheating’ might simply be a way to live life peacefully. Morality has little role to play when it comes to ambition and success, and the recent debate surrounding moonlighting reflects this.
Wipro chairman Rishad Premji came out with a strong statement regarding moonlighting, “This is cheating – plain and simple.” Wipro also announced its policy on moonlighting, which it considers as violation of integrity. Following this, 300 employees were fired for moonlighting. Almost simultaneously, Wipro also began implementing salary hikes and promotions to boost employee retention. Delayed onboarding for recruits by Wipro, along with other major IT companies, has further contributed to instability in the IT market.
But just days after firing employees for moonlighting, Wipro has been named as the ‘best place to work for women’ by Great Places to Work. While Wipro might be the reason that moonlighting is brought to mainstream attention, it is not the reason that the topic is still being discussed. Employee satisfaction, pay parity, and upskilling are some concerns voiced along with moonlighting, and here is what you need to know about it.
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What is Moonlighting?
Working a second job on the side, typically in secret and at night, has been coined moonlighting. When an individual has more than one job or is contracted to work in multiple places without the knowledge of their employer, they are said to be moonlighting.
During the pandemic, most employees across organisations began working remotely from home. While remote working enabled people to gain better work-life balance, it also gave them ample time to pursue other interests. Rising costs of living, coupled with a need to develop their skills, further led many people down the moonlighting path quite naturally.
In countries like the United States, moonlighting is quite natural, even historically. A newsletter published by W.E Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in 1995 shows that up to 45 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men in the working sector at that time were actively moonlighting. Today, the situation remains more or less the same, with many people actively taking up side hustles to make ends meet.
Even in India, whether it’s a teacher giving tuition to students after school hours, or full-time employees acting as consultants for specific projects, moonlighting had existed before organisations decided to clamp down on it.
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How Do Employers Find Out?
When Wipro announced that they were firing 300 employees for working against their organisation’s interests for their competitors, many questions arose. The main question was, how did Wipro find out?
Across various social media channels, individuals had their assumptions about how personnel at Wipro began investigating employees who were actively moonlighting. Simple mistakes like using company-assigned devices (laptops, computers, or even smartphones) for moonlighting, are enough to put an individual under the purview of the organisation’s HR department. Even using your device while it is connected to company WIFI is enough to get caught, especially when there is surveillance happening.
An employee’s income tax and provident fund account is another area that enables employers to find out. Many organisations require employees to provide income tax returns to respective HR departments, and from there, it can be very easy to find out if an employee is working elsewhere. If an individual joins another company as an employee, they are bound to get PF from the other company too. Even when freelancing or working on a contract basis, when the invoice is on the individual’s PAN, it can be easily traced by an employer.
If you’re getting side income in the same salaried account as your main employer’s, that’s another red flag for companies. While these are some legal measures that organisations can take to find out what their employee is doing, it doesn’t necessarily stop there. Companies can snoop in on conversations, look through email threads (especially if you’re using the company email) and track activities on personal devices if necessary. A 2022 Gartner report shows that 16 per cent of employers are using technology to monitor their employees, which includes internal communications.
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Why Organisations Are Concerned
A 2021 survey by Gartner revealed that more than 30 per cent of the Indian workforce would be working remotely by the end of 2022. While this can be a great opportunity for many employees, it can be challenging for employers, who have to trust that there is complete transparency on both sides. Remote working can encourage employees to look for diverse means of income, and this is bound to include side hustles as well.
The main concern that arises with moonlighting is the ethics of working with a competitor organisation. In industries where competition is rampant, organisations need any kind of comparative advantage they can get to succeed. Intellectual property rights can be violated, and employees may be delivering better work to their competitors (especially when payment is on the basis of performance).
But moonlighting also takes precious time away from an employee, which can take a toll on their health. It can lead to loss of productivity over time and even burnout. For organisations that are focused on delivering the best, it can be concerning when employees are unable to do exactly that.
On the flip side, companies such as Swiggy have been open about their moonlighting policy, where complete transparency is maintained to ensure that employees are aware of what they can or cannot do. Employees are allowed to pursue work opportunities outside their working hours, provided that it does not conflict with their normal working hours. Projects or opportunities that can potentially be a conflict of interest also require prior approval.
Besides the moral and professional issues that surround moonlighting, there is no legal clause or labour code in India that strictly prohibits moonlighting. However, organisations can have a non-compete policy, even after you leave (applicable for organisations like Infosys and Wipro), which can make moonlighting a strict no.
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Struggling for Success
Have you ever heard about a person who is over-employed? A term that is becoming quite popular in western countries, it denotes individuals who are leading double professional lives successfully. Working for any organisation doesn’t mean that employees have to completely give up their liberty of pursuing projects that provide additional income or enable them to follow their passion.
Individuals who moonlight do so for various reasons, including:
- To have more disposable income
- Pay off existing debt
- To invest or save
- To gain work experience and upskill
- To pursue their real passion (which can be completely unrelated to their profession)
- To combat boredom and stagnation
It is no secret that the pandemic was a period of great uncertainty for many people, and unexpected terminations and layoffs during that time contributed to further instability. Many individuals may be looking for dual or triple income streams to ensure they never have to go through that period of uncertainty.
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Finding a Solution That Works for All
As the Minister of State for Electronics and IT, Rajeev Chandrashekhar, puts it, “moonlighting is an idea whose time has come”. During the annual event of the Public Affairs Forum of India, he also commented on moonlighting debate, “This is the age of employee-entrepreneurs, and companies must now understand there has been a structural shift in the mind and attitudes of the young Indian tech workforce.”
The world today is vastly different than what it was ten years ago or even before the pandemic. To have the same expectations in industries that are constantly fluctuating with a workforce that is set to reinvent the future of work isn’t viable. Changing times call for changing stances on topics like moonlighting, from all aspects. It might be time to reframe Indian labour codes to depict the realities of today, so they can be more accommodating and beneficial for all parties.
Moonlighting: The Solution for Today’s Workers?
‘Everything works’ (sab kuch chalta hai) is a mentality that many employees have, especially when working in big organisations that span across multiple cities or countries. The workforce today is highly aware, thanks to the pandemic and growing digital presence, of their rights and pay parity. They are also highly burdened; living in a time of high inflation, rising costs, and growing families.
Rising dissatisfaction with their current pay or position can lead to moonlighting being the natural solution. While the issue today is mainly regarding the IT sector, it’s important to remember that most of the Indian workforce today, especially those in blue or pink-collar jobs, have been moonlighting for years.
It’s not uncommon to see an individual in a leadership position juggling positions at various companies. After all, even Rishad Premji juggles between being a chairman at Wipro, a board member at the Azim Premji Foundation, and Wipro Enterprise Limited. Many start-up entrepreneurs today secretly moonlight at a firm while setting up their company. So, is it just a matter of your position and influence in an organisation that determines whether you can work in multiple capacities at once?
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There is a segment of society today that cannot afford to live off just one job. A regular housemaid will work in at least five to ten houses per day to ensure that they are making ends meet. Many low-tier IT professionals are simply not earning enough to live in expensive cities like Bengaluru. While moonlighting may be a luxury that some can afford to give up, that’s not the case for everyone.