Moonlighting in India: Another work trend that is sparking a lot of interest

Moonlighting, the concept of holding multiple jobs, which is already popular in many regions of the world, is now making waves in India Inc as well, especially in the IT sector. But it comes with its own pros and cons.

   
Moonlighting in India-Another work trend at scrutiny

According to Gartner, more than 30 per cent of the Indian workforce will be working remotely by the end of 2022. The figures may change as the popularity of remote work or WFH does not appear to be fading. And now there is a new trend that can double the pay of remote workers or of those who quit their jobs to work remotely.

Working two or more jobs concurrently and covertly.

That is moonlighting or holding multiple jobs at the same time.

“I did moonlighting and I highly recommend it. As a corporate employee, not only did it double my salary but also gave me a lot of experience,” says an anonymous source working as an IT professional.

It’s worth mentioning that the person moonlighting here had taken his superiors into confidence. And they were okay with the arrangement as long as it did not conflict with any of their activities.

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It’s an open secret!

Quietly, in WFH mode, many professionals now have two corporates, two email ids and two bosses. It’s an open secret, especially in the US tech industry. Furthermore, as the concept has grown, an entire community called ‘Overemployed’ has popped up which assists professionals to lead double lives successfully.

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But what about India? “It’s an old concept in the US. But for India it is new,” asserts Piyush Raj Akhouri, Co-Founder of Bridgentech Consulting.

The basic idea, according to him, was that in the United States, you could choose to work for two different employers in different shifts to make more money. “For example, consider a person who works as a waiter in two restaurants. One in the morning and one in the evening. That is two jobs, and this is how the person earns more money and pays their bills. It has now infiltrated the technology sector. Because everyone works and delivers results remotely here,” he adds.

Considering today’s scenario, when employees have more time on hand due to the remote work culture, Akhouri opines that these employees can now handle more work. “And there are companies who have been fair and they’re being transparent and open about the concept, given that the work from home situation will continue for some time. So, it is working. But it’s not feasible in the services sector,” he says.

Even though we are calling it a new trend, we can’t deny that it did exist in India anyway in the form of side hustling. For example, teachers giving tuitions outside of school and consultants moonlighting for independent projects. Another example would be of otherwise employed people becoming part time LIC agents. Even many successful start-ups have been founded while their founders were moonlighting.

“In my opinion, people who moonlight are good managers,” says Sidharth Rawat, Co-founder, Exly, a platform for creators.

“It’s all about time management. Freelance work or moonlighting is not for everyone. I feel that only the top 20 per cent professionals who can outperform the others or the people who are smart enough and can juggle more work, can do this,” he continues.

Having said that, a few of the pros that moonlighting can hold for a professional are the instilling of new skills in them or upskilling them as they get to handle multiple new projects at the same time. And that certainly provides more exposure to them. They will be at par with their counterparts across the world. Moreover, the experience that they will gain will give them the confidence to aspire for and look out for better job offers. And last but not least, they will end up making more money.

Fuelled by the pandemic

In the last two years, the pandemic has further propelled this phenomenon, understandably in the IT sector, as the professionals could work from anywhere and at any time, as long as they had a good connection and the right IT infrastructure. A few of the many reasons that led professionals to opt for moonlighting were the job losses, the unexpected terminations or temporary layoffs and the pay-cuts that we all witnessed during the pandemic.

Burdened with increasing expenses and responsibilities, many professionals were compelled to look for work gigs and the remote work environment made moonlighting inevitable.

“People might have a good salary package, for instance Rs 70 to 80,000 a month. But their counterparts from other regions are getting four to five times more. So why should you not try to match up to some of that expectation. Everybody has got mouths to feed and families to take care of,” says Akhouri.

In a survey by MTV, published in September 2021, 70 per cent of those interviewed said that “side-hustles” or moonlighting are the real shot to fame and 69 per cent said that they would want to earn from their hobbies. In another survey by ResumeBuilder.com, 37 per cent of respondents accepted that they had a second full-time job, and 32 per cent had a side hustle.

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Talking about the concept, Rasesh Seth, Founder of Nextyn, an on-demand expert network and strategic consulting firm says that the moonlighting trend is being widely practiced across the globe, but India has been witnessing it only in the last four to five years.

“The trend is being adopted by lots of companies here. Professionals and even employers are open to it, as long as it is ethical. In fact, lots of employers are leveraging it to their own advantage by on boarding already working employees to gain from their experience,” he comments.

Small companies can benefit from this

Moonlighting employees can have a significant impact on businesses, especially the smaller ones. Consider it a plus point of moonlighting.

Interestingly, moonlighters with years of experience can bring a lot of benefit to small companies by helping them to scale up their growth. And it essentially doesn’t mean that this side hustle has to impact the productivity or time of the employee more than their designated working hours.

Rawat elaborates, “A company looking for an expert, say for example for setting up their sales process, couldn’t hire a person with years of experience due to their budget constraints. They could go for a moonlighting employee who could spare a few hours of their expertise, and that could be within their budget.”

Nextyn, where organizations come to consult, has onboarded consultants who are at the CXO level and give their expertise on a contract basis, sees moonlighting as ethical, and as something which is beneficial for smaller organisations. Seth comments, “These experts currently employed with bigger organizations are well experienced, well paid and successful. They want to share their knowledge with other smaller firms and growing start-ups, that are not their competition. And giving such services, or counsel in their free time, doesn’t hamper these advisors or their work in anyway. I feel that this concept is more like knowledge sharing.”

And then there are red flags!

But experts assert that moonlighting should be seen positively only when it doesn’t hinder anyone’s primary work responsibilities and most importantly, when it does not affect their commitment to their current employers. “For somebody who is not doing his existing job in a better manner, using the same time to do moonlighting is not okay for the company. So, if a moonlighter tries to sabotage their work and take a second job, then that is unethical,” Akhouri tells us.

However, of late this topic is being hotly debated but for all the wrong reasons.

Recently, NASSCOM, an apex industry body for the IT sector reportedly received a complaint about an employee doing seven-timing. Yes, you read it correctly… Not two or three, but the employee was working for seven IT corporates at the same time. This case came to light when the HR manager of one of the firms found out the multiple active PF accounts of this person.

This case was viewed with disdain by most organisations, particularly by the HR community, and led many to question the feasibility of the remote work culture.

“The situation is quite understandable when it comes to supporting family members. However, it is a completely illegal and unethical practice for any organisation irrespective of the sector that it belongs to,” asserts Gautam Saraf, CHRO at Ferns N Petals.

“Loyalty and dedication towards the company are extremely important before joining hands with any organisation irrespective of the sector that it is part of,” he adds.

Having said that, if we talk about Indian organisations, 99 per cent of them forbid their employees to take on a secondary job. Implying that a professional can’t take up full time work elsewhere. Secondary jobs are permitted only if the employee is a part-time employee.

It’s a grey area

FernsNPetals, an e-commerce company, does not support moonlighting in any way. Saraf, its CHRO, who has extensive experience in the HR sector, tells us that this is against the company’s rule book.

“In our employee agreement, we have laid out policies where employees cannot be involved in a second job as it affects the employee’s productivity along with it presenting the risk of data and confidential information leakage. In fact, any Indian company would not support this practice,” he asserts.

So far, Saraf says that they have not witnessed any incidents or cases of moonlighting in their organization.

However, commenting on the ethics of moonlighting, Akhouri says that it’s still a grey area that the labour codes do not talk about. “It is not exactly illegal; at the same time, it is not outrightly legal!” he comments.

Traditionally, upon joining a company, an employment contract spells out a certain set of hours that an employee needs to put in work for. And there may be some clauses as well which refrain an employee from working for their competitors. “There are many such barriers and boundaries which you end up crossing when you start moonlighting,” he says.

Like Saraf’s organisation, many other employers usually discourage their employees from moonlighting. It is done due to the many valid concerns on the part of the employers, like conflict of interest, impact on the performance of the primary job, misuse of company resources, absenteeism, poor attentiveness, and fatigue. 

It is critical for employees to assess the employment contract of their primary job to ensure compliance with its moonlighting policies, suggests Saraf. “We are ensuring that policies such as IT and the employment contract are clear about the company’s stance around moonlighting. We, as management should keep our eyes open for some of the signs and take disciplinary action if it starts impacting the company,” he says.

HR experts say that whether a company accepts the practice would entirely depend on the industry that they are in and their function and of course on the stipulations in their employment contract. However, they argue that in India, as per the provident fund rules, having dual PF accounts is not allowed and the same goes for dual employment.

And the case reported by NASSCOM shows how some employees can take advantage of the loopholes.

“I think it is highly unlikely that moonlighting is going to be stopped by labour codes and laws. I mean, in India, the problem is not that there are no laws, right? The problem is that the laws are not implemented. And it’s very difficult to impose them. I mean to say that nobody’s got the time to figure out what a random resource of a company is doing!” comments Akhouri.

It seems like this practice might soon become the norm.

So how should companies deal with it

Call it moonlighting or overemployment or slashie, an employee may have started working at two jobs secretly for various reasons. That employee chose to be deliberately overemployed with someone else, hedging their bets. but sometimes, that might reach a point of conflict with their employers’ interests.

“Companies suffer due to moonlighting because it causes higher attrition,” reveals Akhouri.

The bigger challenge now for the employers is about how to catch and identify the people who are doing it. That too at a time when companies are encouraging a work culture that is remote and is based on trust.

Firstly, employers need to understand that due to the unprecedented times that we are living in currently, employment ethics have changed, and the work environment can’t be controlled anymore. Instead, they need to turn the newer elements of this work culture to their advantage. Of course, that includes moonlighting.

At the same time, on a practical level, organisations need to ramp up their work culture. They can do this by implementing policies or strategies that make their workplaces better, where everyone wants to work. And if your employee is happy, they will be less inclined to use their time on your clock for the benefit of others.

Also, many companies deploy tools to detect any data leakage and keep tabs on employee activity. This could be another way to overcome the risks of moonlighting.

For instance, Saraf says that in his company, they have laid out policies in their employment contract according to which their employees must not under any circumstances engage themselves directly or through any agency in any work, business, profession or employment, either honorary or otherwise without obtaining prior written permission from the management

“We are also looking to conduct some assessments to identify any red flags to detect and report any activities related to the productivity and engagement levels of our employees. We are also ensuring that all our employees are motivated and engaged through various review forums and through our rewards and recognition initiatives,” Saraf elaborates.

But the thing is that organisations can’t always control their employee’s actions, leave alone bringing a law that forbids moonlighting.

“Because many employees feel that if you don’t like my work, fine! I’ll do it somewhere else. You can’t control them. So, HR ends up creating more policies to bind their employees. Then it becomes a minefield! I meant to say that organisations can be selfish, but only to an extent,” opines Akhouri.

“Yes, HR policies should spell out strict rules and policies on data leakage and on the sharing of any trade secrets or IPs. But more than that, I don’t think that there should be a law or policy about making moonlighting a flop because this is the new norm. And it’s only going to increase productivity when there is such a big scarcity of tech talent in the IT sector. It is going to help two companies not one,” he adds.

However, there are risks for the employees who are moonlighting as well.

“They can get fired,” says Akhouri. Moreover, firms can commence legal investigations in some cases.

Also, when an employee is simultaneously working at two jobs, they definitely face the prospect of a burnout. They can be tired and stressed all the time. Which can result in negative consequences such as making costly mistakes and the loss of their productivity.

Often employers don’t mind when their employees decide to monetize their hobbies by converting them into well-paying secondary jobs or side hustles. But there’s always the risk of that growing into something more over time, which can cause a conflict of interest between the employer and the employee. But as moonlighting or side hustles are now becoming the norm, our advice to the employees who are involved in it, is to be honest and transparent.