Moonlighting – The open secret in the tech industry

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Moonlighting – The open secret in the tech industry
Dr Mahesh Bhatt, Chief Business Officer, TeamLease ServicesTeamLease Services​
Note: The article is authored by Dr Mahesh Bhatt, Chief Business Officer, TeamLease Services.
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Moonlighting is by no means a new concept. Before it assumed its current notoriety in the media thanks to its wide prevalence in the IT industry, drivers, cleaners and maids have been augmenting their incomes by moonlighting, sometimes even doing things they are not trained to do. Even within professional circles such as advertising, media, education and healthcare, moonlighting has been quite widely prevalent in India.

Today, in the tech industry, moonlighting is the biggest open secret. This is predominantly a result of its work from anywhere (WFA) flexibility and salary structures that have not been revised for decades now, and are out of sync with inflation and the cost of living.

Social media has bolstered the impact of moonlighting, making it a conversation across platforms. Leaders engaging in this conversation with a strong tone have been questioned and berated by the new generation of the workforce.

The generational shift in mindset has been transforming the future of work. There are enough non-traditional traits of Gen-Z in the realm of work, workplace and evolving trends. Every 6-8 years, a new generation of the workforce enters with a different mindset. This accelerated with the pandemic-induced hybrid workforce evolution and is transforming the way of work. The predictability quotient has considerably reduced except for one thing that is certain - evolution.

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Moving towards a digital ecosystem has been a blessing. But was it the first flash of red light? Seamless linkages across Aadhaar, PAN and PF in some cases brought a few such cases into the public domain. Nonetheless, moonlighting became a swift and easy choice for most employees to supplement their incomes with the rising inflation.

With the pandemic, hybrid work policies, WFA mannerisms, quiet quitting, quiet firing, and moonlighting picked up momentum. According to HR experts, the incidence of moonlighting has increased in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, with people wanting to earn more money in the face of job losses, inflation or having more time as a result of working from home. However, India Inc. did not anticipate moonlighting to attain such a gigantic proportion so quickly.

Other reasons could be the entrepreneurial bug that has bitten all tech employees alike, the need for higher incomes and lastly the demand for flexibility in workplaces.

As per some unofficial estimates, despite a return-to-office mandate, less than 15% of the employees turn up to work, especially at the junior level. This impacts mid-level managers as they have a lesser incentive to return to office. However, there is no clarity on what level the laid-off employees involved in moonlighting fell under - entry, middle or senior. If it were at the entry level, it may just be possible that the salaries were lower compared to the cost of living in major cities. That made staying at home and working for two jobs a better proposition for them. While for mid- and senior-level employees, it could be that they got more exciting projects, helping them enhance their skill sets and of course supplementing their income.

From a broader lens, for organisations, it is an ethical and moral issue concerning intellectual property. It might just affect productivity due to increasing fatigue and stress.

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From a legal standpoint, if the contract forbids moonlighting, it is a strict NO. A person may work more than one job in India without breaking the law unless prohibited by the employment contract. However, section 60 of the Factories Act bars dual employment for an adult worker.

All in all, moonlighting is an ethical issue. It becomes a logical thing to do in India, where overtime pay is an alien concept and plentiful employees are underpaid on full-time jobs. The war of talent is real and is deeply impacting employers. Employees who are part of the skilled working population are spoilt for choice with an ‘abundance mindset’. Moonlighting in today’s world is going to stay. What is needed is not confrontation but collaboration between employer and employee.

After all, human capital investments define a company and its culture!
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