Wipro recently fired 300 employees for moonlighting, a practice which chairman Rishad Premji believes is in violation of the 'act of integrity.' The sacked staff were caught working for one of the IT firm's competitors. In the post-pandemic world where discourses around allowing flexibility at work and implementing employee-friendly policies have come to the fore, moonlighting is a knotty area that industry leaders are currently treading. Moonlighting is a practice wherein a company employee engages in dual employment usually covertly, without keeping the primary employers informed. The subject is the talk of the town and tech companies are divided in their opinions. While legacy IT firms like Wipro and Infosys have been transparent about their rejection to moonlighting, new-age startups and tech players hold mixed views. While some are opposed to the view, several others have encouraged employees to take up side gigs and are trying to maintain a balanced approach.

The change-makers

Food delivery major Swiggy, for instance, has been one of the first few tech firms to support moonlighting by instituting a policy around it. The company has placed employee projects under two categories—those that are "high sensitive, leveraging professional know-how" and the other set of projects that are defined as non-professional in nature, largely falling under the domain of interests and hobbies. Swiggy has mandated its employees to seek the company's approval before pursuing projects that are picked up for economic consideration and/or fall under the first category, internally described as 'A.' "Over the last two years, we observed that some of our employees were getting opportunities to render gig services, leveraging their professional skills outside work. Some even discovered new hobbies during the lockdown and have been keen to pursue them now because they find time due to remote-first ways of working. To solve this need of employees, we came up with an industry-first moonlighting policy," Yamini Koganti, AVP, HRBP, said in a blog in early August.

Edtech unicorn Emeritus is open to allowing its employees to take up side jobs as long as the company is kept in the loop. "I don't believe in a blanket for or against position for moonlighting. At Emeritus, we look at this issue on a case by case basis. We believe that employees should take the permission first. We have had cases where an employee has asked to do some consulting work on the side, or take a board position, or a volunteering role etc. We deal with each of these cases with a very open mind. In most cases we allow these because it is good for the employee and society. But in some cases, if we perceive conflicts we have had to say no," says co-founder & CEO Ashwin Damera. Siddha Jain, chief business officer at Bombae says that there have been select instances wherein employees have expressed their intent to pursue something of their own, outside of work. The company has supported them. "This new-young generation is looking to spend the majority of its time on things that lie at the intersection of passion, purpose and profession (IKIGAI perhaps). Traditionally, companies have fulfilled the profession aspect but somehow fallen short on the other two. Companies that are reflective and empathetic towards this shift, have gradually become more flexible," says Jain. Global HRtech firm HackerEarth that counts Amazon, Microsoft among its clients doesn't officially have a documented policy that says no to moonlighting. The firm doesn't have an issue with an employee wanting to engage in work or projects outside their work hours with the company. "The working world needs to open up and enable individuals to support themselves to navigate a high level of dependency on 'one company.' "At HackerEarth allowing moonlighting is seen as a positive indicator for the hiring process or for attracting potential highly skilled talent. This also increases our pool for hiring and allows us to look for more neuro-diverse and passionate people. Organisations that continue to structurally resist this phenomenon could be at the risk of losing out that pool of diverse talent," says HR director Swetha Harikrishnan.

Tech firm TeamLease HRtech does not have any policy against moonlighting and the company claims that it is not trying to find out whether employees are moonlighting or not. "Even if we form a policy in the future, it will be supported by our state-of-the-art HR technology products that measure employee experience, wellbeing and productivity. We believe that overworking can lead to burnout and fatigue," says CEO Sumit Sabharwal.

The naysayers

A section of the startup industry is, however, not voting in favour of moonlighting. Ronnie Screwvala-led upGrad is against the practice. "We do not encourage moonlighting as it has a huge potential of distracting employees from their end goal which in our case is even bigger, as we work tirelessly to positively impact the lives of millions of our learners," says CHRO Saurabh Deep Singla. For fintech startup Finlabs, moonlighting is a violation of professional integrity and a breach of trust. "Our flexi-working hours, work from home mode of working and choose your leaves policies ensure work-life balance. But when it comes to compromising our organisation's values and ethics, we have a zero tolerance policy," says founder & CEO Nimish Agrawal. Navkiran Singh, founder and CEO at Baazi Games, believes that moonlighting is not the sole way of ensuring work flexibility. Maintaining a conducive environment for employees to grow and learn, understanding their needs, creating specialised opportunities for them both in terms of remuneration and discovering new learning curves assume greater precedence and if implemented well can prevent moonlighting. "We aren't in support of the practice and at the moment, there is no policy that allows. We see moonlighting as a phenomenon arising from two key reasons: either employee isn't happy with the job, particularly the pay scale but can't leave it so they are looking at alternate sources of income and second, the scope of learning for the employees has completely diminished," says Singh.

EaseMyTrip is against moonlighting as the firm perceives it to be a sign of 'discord towards the main employer.' "If any candidates need to do or want to take on other jobs, we advise establishing flexible work arrangements at the time of joining. We resist moonlighting because it might lead to questionable participation in the work that was promised," says co-founder Prashant Pitti.

Among big IT players, Wipro has been vocal about its rejection of moonlighting. According to the company's leadership, it is 'cheating.' Another IT leader Infosys has warned its employees that engaging in moonlighting can lead to termination of services.

IT employees should have clarity on what a moonlighting policy allows and what it does not. Employers should establish unambiguous policies that provide a channel for staff to contact them with any queries they may have through an established framework. Since the existing labour system prohibits dual work, it is crucial to explicitly outline the dos and don'ts of moonlighting both within and across industries. In the case of moonlighting across different industries, there should again be a policy in place to disclose and consequently address the same, says Vijay Sivaram, CEO, Quess IT Staffing. "There are now two different kinds of moonlighting that can take place in the Indian IT industry. One involves working a second job in the same field or capacity, whereas the other involves working a second job in a separate field," says Sivaram.

So, what has triggered moonlighting? Kavita Kurup, Global Head of HR at UST says that moonlighting gained momentum after the onset of the pandemic triggered work from home. The overnight shift to remote working helped people to get rid of long commutes and it brought relatively more fluid work schedules. For many, it yielded new opportunities, especially in their free time. That's primarily because of mismatched expectations. While employers worked on strategies to keep employees enabled and provided flexibility, there was a level of dissatisfaction that set it in, says Kurup. Although employees are often promised work-life balance during their job interviews, when they come aboard some organisations, they find they are expected to work on weekends or respond to emails around the clock. There is a compelling need for organisations to humanise the workplace and move beyond traditional HR approaches. The shift to become a people practice is more relevant than ever, points out Kurup.

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