COVID-19 ushered a new age of moonlighting and there’s perhaps no looking back

By Ishan Patra
September 30, 2022, Updated on : Mon Oct 03 2022 11:14:15 GMT+0000
COVID-19 ushered a new age of moonlighting and there’s perhaps no looking back
Although IT companies in India have pushed against the idea of employees having side hustles, the COVID-19-induced disruption in work culture might favour moonlighters.
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A software engineer, a chartered accountant, and a marketing specialist may not have a lot in common, or do they? In this case, there is an overarching theme linking them–moonlighting–the practice of doing one or more additional jobs or side gigs, along with a primary job.


The concept of moonlighting itself is not new as professionals have been taking up side projects to earn extra income. However, major IT companies like Wipro Ltd and Infosys have pushed back against the idea of their employees taking side jobs. 


V, who spoke to YourStory on the condition of anonymity, works at a software firm. He says he used his experience and knowledge to help develop software products for other smaller companies, including startups.


“A friend asked if I could help on a software development project,” recalls V, adding, “The project was interesting, I had some spare time during weekdays, so I agreed to work.”


While V thinks there is nothing wrong in picking up a side hustle, A, a senior software professional at a leading IT company, says it is not right to have a side job.


“Moonlighting is like cheating. When employees working for a company have free time, they can utilise that time for things like re-skilling, up-skilling, etc, instead of working somewhere else,” A explains.

Tech companies like Wipro, Infosys and IBM have taken a stance against moonlighting by not permitting their employees to take up a second job.


Wipro Executive Chairman Rishad Premji has termed moonlighting as “plain and simple cheating”. The company recently fired 300 employees for moonlighting.


However, some tech bosses have shown more willingness to change, like Tech Mahindra CEO C.P. Gurnani, who tweeted, “My thoughts on the trending 'M word'... It’s necessary to keep changing with the times, and as always, I welcome disruption in the ways we work.”

Future of work

Harold D’Souza, Co-founder and Director at WalkWater Talent Advisors says that the overall definition of a 'job’ is changing as people want to have more freedom and flexibility due to the changes brought about by the pandemic.


“Moonlighting is a trend that is here to stay and it is a function of what the market needs as well,” Harold says. “There will be a shortage of skills in certain areas, and I think those people will then have to multitask and do multiple jobs.”


Considering these factors, moonlighting will work in certain areas, Harold says, adding that people evolve and grow, and eventually the industry will accept it.


“The large-scale WFH & full-time remote working that the pandemic ushered, also got employees comparatively less engaged and connected with their employers. This distancing and physical anonymity of remote working got employees experimenting with moonlighting options, which they were previously not exposed to,” says Kamal Karanth, Founder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing solutions company.


He believes flexible remote working conditions and limitations of enterprise controls turned conducive for employees to dip their feet into moonlighting, without risking their full-time employment.


In addition, the emergence of many gig platforms like Workflexi and Flexiple also expanded the scope for moonlighting for tech employees.


Globally, the number of web-based platforms, through which tasks such as design, data entry, analytics, and financial services, among others, can be outsourced by businesses, has tripled, according to a NITI Aayog report. The number of such platforms has increased from 142 in 2010 to 777 in 2020, generating a revenue of at least $52 billion in 2019—the latest year for which such data exists—alone.


The average salary for part-time tech work in India is Rs 2,60,000 per year, according to the jobs search portal Talent.com. For entry-level jobs, the pay starts at Rs 1,80,000 per year, and for most experienced workers the income goes up to Rs 5,20,000 a year.

multitasking


Moonlighters building startups

Startups are largely in favour of moonlighting as employees at different job levels in sectors like IT, finance, and marketing work as advisors, mentors and in other capacities for these companies.


Food aggregator Swiggy, which recently publicly supported moonlighting, says its ‘Moonlighting Policy’ enables employees to pick up gigs outside the company.


“Startups are very much open to the idea of moonlighting,” Hardik Dave, Founder and CEO of Indika AI, said, adding that a scenario where a startup can employ a senior product specialist from a leading IT company, without any conflict-of-interest issues, to help it build or improve its product, works well for both the employee and the startup.


While the debate about moonlighting continues in India, the practice is normalised in the US, with many entrepreneurs relying on it to begin their entrepreneurial journey.


“The US happens to be the leader in the startup ecosystem because there is a healthy support for this moonlighting culture,” Rashmi R Padhy, an entrepreneur, states.


Most of the founders who get funded in the US would have a history of building something as a side job. This gives them the experience, and teaches them the basic things like how to build small products, operations, sales, marketing, etc, he explained.


A majority of startups in the US are run by people who moonlight, Rashmi notes. “The reason why I could build a startup was because of my moonlighting,” he said, adding that taking moonlighting out of the equation, essentially means taking innovation out of startup space completely.

Time to re-read employment contracts

While laws such as Section 60 of the Factories Act, 1948; The Shops and Establishments Act (varies from State to State); The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Central Rules, 1946 prevent industrial workers from holding two jobs at one time, the law for employees working on side projects in a professional setting is vague. However, contracts with non-compete or single employment clauses can prevent IT workers and other professionals from taking side hustles.


Will the recent pushback from IT companies change employment contracts?


“While Swiggy has come out with an explicit policy on moonlighting, it is likely that most companies will have an informal approach to moonlighting rather than announcing an explicit policy,” TN Hari, Co-founder of the Artha School of Entrepreneurship, said.


According to Hari, “Companies can impose reasonable restrictions such as not allowing their full-time employees to work for direct competitors, or even asking them to put in 45 hours a week. But using the asymmetry of power to bind employees in contracts that place unreasonable and arbitrary restrictions on what employees can and cannot do outside of the 9-hour work window, or enforcing other one-sided terms of employment, are likely to be increasingly questioned by both employees as well as regulators and market forces.”


“Going forward, one major change I can certainly expect is, changes in the clauses of the employment contract,” Hardik said. “The companies that do not want their employees to do moonlighting would draft their employment contract clauses accordingly, to make it very clear that the employees will not only be terminated, but the company can also take legal action against them.”


Apart from this, either the contracts would be renegotiated, or there would be clearer communication coming from the employers’ side, Hardik says, adding that even the employees would want to get clarification and would seek clarity on what they can or cannot do.


With inputs from Thimmaya Poojary.


Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti