Wipro fired 300 employees for doing it; TCS COO N.G. Subramaniam said it was an “ethical issue”; Tech Mahindra CEO C.P. Gurnani supported it; and Infosys said it would terminate contracts of those found guilty.
Moonlighting is not a new concept, but the pandemic gave it a bigger spotlight. As lakhs of India’s IT professionals started working from home, they found more time to take up a second or third assignment. The major reasons for doing so—extra income, the chance to prove their capabilities in different jobs, non-recognition by employers, and utilisation of spare time.
As employees started working from anywhere during the pandemic, managers could not supervise them. “IT companies saw a huge demand during the pandemic as every industry sector wanted to digitise its processes,” said Aditya Narayan Mishra, MD and CEO of CIEL HR. “The demand for IT professionals increased, but the supply was not adequate. Hence, companies were desperate to get employees on board without conducting due diligence.”
A few experts THE WEEK spoke to said that moonlighting could not be bracketed one way or the other. “It prevails due to talent shortage in the market, backed by the increasing demand for niche skills in the IT sector,” said Arjun Ramaraju, CEO of software firm Conneqt Digital.
Experts pointed out that the gig model was viewed negatively, too, but has now become an accepted mode of employment globally. Therefore, rather than curbing it altogether, it would be fruitful to discuss whether moonlighting can be explored in a transparent, compliant and secure manner.
Said Sarita Digumarti, chief learning officer of online learning portal Unext: “I do believe that the definition of moonlighting is currently vague. Is it moonlighting when a software developer takes up gigs as an artist or a musician after work hours? Before implementing strict laws and outrightly being dismissive about it, bringing in a sense of clarity on what moonlighting means would be a good start to develop newer policies for the future workforce.”
She recalled a recent report from Kotak Institutional Equities, which said that, of the 400-odd people surveyed, close to 65 per cent knew of professionals who were “moonlighting”. “This is also an inference to understand why 42 per cent of them prefer WFH,” said Digumarti. “Dual income is obviously a good sign from an employee’s perspective. But if we ask at whose expense, a lot more dimensions would open up.”
Said Prerna Kohli, director of human resources at Cyware, an IT company in Bengaluru: “Moonlighting has garnered attention because it is a violation of the employment agreement and [creates] a reasonable degree of risk to the proprietary information and the operating model of the employer. Companies must deploy security tools and techniques to detect and prevent risks associated with moonlighting, such as data leakage and abuse of intellectual property. Beyond policy measures, HR leaders must maintain clear communication with all employees to avoid conflicts or a drop in performance. Recruitment practices should also be reevaluated to highlight high-risk profiles during the hiring process.”
HR experts believe that about 30 per cent of IT employees have moonlighted at some point in their career. “Given the intensity of messages that are coming from the IT bigwigs, there is a likelihood that moonlighting as a phenomenon is prevalent in certain pockets and is growing,” said Alok Shende, MD of Mumbai-based Ascentius Consulting. “However, to cast aspersions on all individuals indulging in moonlighting might not be appropriate. There could be individuals working on... opportunities that might not be available in their daily 9 to 5 jobs. Companies must... offer avenues to moonlighters so as to co-opt them in the formal process.”
Experts say that employers should develop a clear policy that helps employees be open about the secondary jobs and pick the ones that do not hurt the organisation. “Employers need to conduct stay interviews and regular feedback sessions, provide career progression plans for the employees, and give them challenging work to make them feel trusted and create a sense of belonging,” added Mishra. “This will increase the employee retention rate and enhance the company’s performance.”
The question now is whether moonlighting will have a long-term impact on the industry. “Overall this could have a great impact on the IT companies and also the people,” said Sathya Pramod, CEO, Kayess Square Consulting Private Limited and former CFO of Tally Solutions. “Attrition, which was already high, will increase. This will lead to the quality of work being compromised. On the other hand, it will also increase the costs since these companies will need to maintain a bench more than what was earlier the norm. Employees will start a ‘try and buy’ scheme whereby they will moonlight and figure out if the new place is better. In the long run, it is not great even for employees. There will be mental breakdowns and the greed for money will lead to them overpricing themselves and when the demand for professionals goes down, it will be impossible to adjust to the new normal.”
A few HR pundits, however, said it was too early to predict the impact. “HR leaders must put in place corrective policies and talk to their employees to proactively prevent this issue... rather than reacting through hasty measures,” said Kohli. “In the long term, the entry points during the screening process have to be strongly governed to eliminate the chances of moonlighting. [The practice] is prevalent mostly among employees with three to six years of experience.”
There is also the expectation that the industry will eventually settle down. “An efficient means would be to re-look at employment contracts,” said Ramaraju. “For companies, security and confidentiality must be treated as non-negotiables, while for employees, transparency, flexibility, and an encouraging environment are key to maintaining harmony. Needless to say, there needs to be more debate.”