Let’s first understand what Moonlighting is, as many of you may not be familiar with this. The term Moonlighting is to refer people taking up a second job or side gig apart from their regular job.
This term has come from the historical practice of people picking up additional work after their regular hours of working which used to be in the late evening or night. People consider this for various reasons like to earn extra money, to gain more experience or to pursue their interest areas, etc.
This leads us to the question of why is this an issue. This is fair to say that every business is keen to get 100% focus and the best possible productivity from its employees. Businesses would like their employees to give 100% focus to the contents of the job.
While employees are also focused on performing job-related tasks, they are also focused on improving their skillset for the future. There may be situations when employees may see the opportunities in the current job to develop their skill set for the future. Therefore, they may feel the urgency to consider a side gig or second job to continue to invest in their future career.
Over the last two years during the pandemic, most people were working from home and had the availability of extra time to pursue career interests that were outside their regular job. Employees were not subject to close supervision while working from home and this gave them more flexibility to accept projects/ tasks/ jobs outside their regular job. This particularly affected technology companies in India as their employees got a lot of opportunities to pick up some extra work.
The technology firms in India are worried about this affecting productivity. They fear it could lead to a conflict of interest, inappropriate use of proprietary information/ tools, and above all, risk of data breaches.
Large technology firms in India like Wipro, Infosys, IBM, and TCS have flagged this issue. Moonlighting, in their view, is like cheating and not ethical. All their employees are in full-time jobs and that’s how they have positioned their arrangements to the clients hence anyone accepting a side job is in breach of the contract.
However, Tech Mahindra, another large technology firm in India seems to be more receptive to moonlighting and is considering rolling out a policy so that employees can be open about it. Similarly, start-ups in India also generally feel we need to be accommodating about people picking up second jobs. They do feel the need for having some sort of governance framework but in principle open to the idea of people doing an extra job.
In summary, this is an issue where opinions are divided. However, no one practice/ solution will suit all. My thought process is simple if this is important to employees then employers are better off embracing it rather than fighting it. Therefore, something needs to be done about this which leads to the question of what can be done so that both employers and employees strike the right balance here.
In our desire to find the right solution, the one end of solutions would be for employers to stop this and take disciplinary actions where breaches are noticed. Similarly, another end of the solution could be to empower employees to self-declare such assignments and be responsible to ensure that side job does not interfere with their ability to perform their regular job.
Then there are a whole host of options in between these two extreme ends depending on the individual business situations. This takes us to the final question of how companies go about doing it.
One possible framework for companies to consider involves taking three steps that are:
The firm should consider categorising all jobs to identify where incumbents can be offered flexibility to accept a side gig/ second job. It is an important exercise to undertake to gain transparency for all. There would be jobs, for example, senior-level jobs where round-the-clock commitment and availability are expected.
Similarly, there could be such roles where flexibility can’t be offered because of the business model and customer expectations. This step will help you define the policy framework and provide clarity to all.
The second step is to provide opportunities to channel the availability of resources towards organisation needs. Every firm has a lot of internal work needs for a short period due to the project or cyclical nature of the business activities. These are important work activities but as these are internal and not billable to customers become harder to resource properly.
However, these are critical to making internal operations efficient and engaging for all. Therefore, I advocate firms to create an internal marketplace where individual functions post their work requirements and interested people can pick up those jobs as side jobs.
These are great learning opportunities for interested employees, but I think firms should go the extra mile and incentivise such efforts to encourage people to pick up such jobs. The firm could establish the practice of recognising this in its performance management processes.
The final step is to create opportunities for people to accept such work assignments outside. This has benefits for employees as they earn extra money and improve their skillset for the future. Employers also have benefits such as a highly engaged workforce and access to staff who has skillset for the future.
This is even more important for firms that are unable to create an internal marketplace. The provision of outside opportunities does require a defined policy and governance framework to mitigate the risks such as conflict of interest, inappropriate use of proprietary information/ tools, commercial breaches, disturbance to the regular job, etc.
These are my thoughts but as always, I am open to hearing your thoughts on this as well as what else can be done. Thanks.