Moonlighting has been a buzzword in conversations recently considering the coverage it is getting in the media. However, it is a trend that has always been around. It just became more visible during the pandemic. Moonlighting refers to the practice of having a second job or a side hustle in addition to primary employment. Obviously, the employer remains unaware of this which is the root cause of the controversy.
The pandemic-induced lockdown allowed the work-from-home option. This meant that employees saved a lot of time on travel and they could explore other opportunities that came their way. Digital connectivity has improved the scope for remote jobs worldwide, several of which pay in foreign currency. Talented professionals with in-demand skill sets find it easy to land freelance assignments or even semi-permanent opportunities that could bring in a neat second income. Moonlighting is an attractive proposition that many don’t want to miss out on.
This practice is particularly prevalent in industries where there’s a skill shortage in the market and hiring full-time employees for a project based role doesn’t seem possible by employers. These skills are offered by freelancers as well. This makes it convenient for full-time employees to have a side hustle. When creative professionals find an exciting opportunity that may help build new in-demand skills they may choose to explore it out of curiosity and may stay on if they like it. Similar is the case with employees who wish to start off on their own. They would find it convenient to test the waters while holding on to a job.
When I started my first job, moonlighting was something almost non-existent. Even if we came to know about someone pulling it off, it was frowned upon and called unethical. We all believed that if any company has hired us for a full-time role, all our work time belonged to our employers and anything we did beyond that was unethical. For many companies, it also meant dealing with conflict of interest if the employee is working with a competitor or doing jobs for the company’s own clients. So, although several companies don’t have a written policy on moonlighting, they have some invisible lines drawn to protect their own interests.
You must have read about Wipro firing 300 employees for moonlighting because it was deemed as cheating and a clear conflict of interest. TCS shares a similar view while Infosys and Tech Mahindra have a softer opinion as long as prior permission is taken. Advertising companies where this is prevalent have a mixed view that varies from one to another.
Moonlighting is not always about money (while it may be one of the key factors). It sometimes is just accepting a newer challenge when the day work has become predictable and mundane. Sometimes, it could also be the urge to explore other avenues that sound exciting or help them upskill for the future. We have seen cases where full-time employees explore their entrepreneurial streak and start their own ventures on the side. It is not fair to stifle the creative spark of any individual and we don’t indulge in that. Similarly, content writers, web developers and SEO specialists have a high demand and it is possible that they get freelance assignments. As long as there is no conflict of interest, we don’t have an issue and we have not issued any written policy setting rules in stone.
Maybe it is time for employers to reimagine employment contracts and make them more flexible. It is possible to allow ethical moonlighting with the knowledge of the employer where there is no conflict of interest and happens outside of working hours. This would give employees the freedom to explore other opportunities after working hours if they wish to. It is quite possible that in the workplaces of tomorrow, employees will have the flexibility to do independent work after working hours or on weekends without any compromise to the primary job. It remains to be seen which industries would be the first to accept the new phenomenon and bring it within the framework.
This dispute on whether moonlighting should be allowed or not is set to continue in the future as there are no right answers to this debate. As long as employees don’t work for the competition or for existing clients or use company resources or work on office time, several companies are not opposed to the idea of moonlighting. HR policies of the future will definitely take into account the concept of moonlighting and incorporate appropriate clauses in the contract. As we move towards hybrid workplaces, moonlighting may also become commonplace in future. At the end of it, there needs to be a mutual trust between the organization and the employee. If there’s trust, no moonlighting can impact work productivity. If there’s no trust, even a full time dedicated employee may appear unproductive. It’s all about organizations taking a mature take on the topic, understanding employees’ perspective and setting appropriate guidelines for ensuring no conflict of interest.
Views expressed are personal.