Moonlighting, is it justified?

‘Moonlighting’ is something that we have been hearing a lot about lately and of course, while it has nothing to do with “moon” or “light”, it certainly has everyone talking about it and has led to some strong arguments from both sides. I have been meaning to share my views on this subject for some time now, especially from a software industry perspective.

Moonlighting is the term used for people taking up a second job while having a fulltime employment with one. This secondary job is usually taken without the knowledge of the main employer. Some look at this as projects or side jobs taken in the night or during the weekends and holidays.

Why are people moonlighting?

If one gets into the crux of the issue, we can try and reason it and understand why people moonlight. Here are some of the main reasons for it.

  • Multiple income sources

The main reason definitely is to enhance their income. Money from multiple sources is always welcome and something many do not want to say no to.

  • Plan B for career

For some, moonlighting is a Plan B. They may be looking at a career switch to something that they are more interested in or even something that pays them more and moonlighting is their way of testing the waters before jumping right into it.

  • Debt accumulation

Today’s IT world and the lifestyles of the modern generations have made people accumulate a lot of debt. Unfortunately for some, a single income is not enough to manage that debt.

  • Tired/bored of work in present company

Boredom is a major factor in moonlighting. This may either arise because they don’t like the work they are doing or even because they may not be occupied in the right manner by their employer.

  • Creativity/Passion

For some, moonlighting is an outlet for their creativity and passion…something they may not be able to do in their regular work world. There could be a singer/musician or even an artist lurking in a mundane job waiting for a chance to be more creative.

  • Because no one said they can’t!

Finally, we must say it: many ‘moonlight’ because they can and no one is stopping them as of now.

Current Scenario – Trigger?

While this phenomenon may have existed in the past, it has gotten a lot of attention due to the pandemic, with “work from home” being the main trigger, in my opinion.

The newfound freedom due to WFH and lack of supervision created this whole new world where young folks suddenly started to use this freedom to moonlight. Speaking largely from the software industry perspective, all one needs is a laptop at home as an instrument to earn some additional money.

The other main factor being the classic case of “demand and supply”. The pandemic caused the demand for online and digital services, which was unprecedented and the shortage of skills made both employers and employees to accept moonlighting. Companies were struggling to find the right talent and were willing to bypass the norms to get it wherever/however they were able to find it. For employees, it was an exceptional opportunity for those who were looking for additional incomes.

The Dichotomy

Swiggy had announced their “industry-first” policy of allowing its employees to take up gigs or projects outside of their regular employment at the company, during the hours away from work calling these new norms the “moonlighting” policy. Maybe it works for Swiggy. On the other hand, Wipro chairman Rishad Premji’s tweeted this on August 22, “There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating – plain and simple.” He did receive a lot of criticism post his tweet, but he has a valid point too. Wipro has been facing a lot of flak from a section of people over its decision to fire 300 employees over moonlighting. Not sure they had a choice.

Is it the New Normal?

There are many arguments around the changing nature of the work itself where this could be the future where people could be taking on bits and pieces of work and working for multiple employers. This is the same for employers where they hire people for specific skills and not deal with a permanent workforce by providing benefits. That may well be the case in times to come. It really depends on what you have signed up for. If you are part of a gig workforce, then it’s completely acceptable, I think.

However, in my mind, the argument is not about that. It is about the current full-time employees taking jobs without the knowledge of their primary employer, potentially even for competition while falling behind on their committed deliverables.

It is a nightmare if you are a business owner or a manager, however, it may be great if you are a skilled employee. So, depending on whom you speak with, they will either be against moonlighting or vehemently for it.

The questions I would ask is,

  1. Is yours a full-time employment or a part time gig?
  2. Does your current employment contract, you have signed up for, restrict you from taking other employment? Especially with your competition?
  3. Is the secondary employment affecting deliverables in your primary role?
  4. Are you taking on something potentially competitive to your primary employer?

In Summary

While loyalty may be an emotion, commitment is a virtue. It is clearly different if you are not a knowledge worker. You can drive a car in the morning and deliver food in the afternoon, you are technically not in breach of anything. You have fixed hours that you work. Knowledge work comes with some amount of commitment and mind space that is required to complete the task at hand.

Employees may not give their 100% to one job. There will be times when work pushes beyond the 8 hours and then there will be a lot of frustration and stress for those with multiple jobs. Often times, deliverables are not met when you have to moonlight. How do you justify missed deadlines and to whom? Which employer takes priority now?

Lastly, free time is for people to rest. Working all the time will increase stress and reduce efficiency to a great extent. This may, in the long run, lead to incompetent workforce across industries, especially in the knowledge industry.

Maybe it’s time to re-work on new models, work contracts and how one thinks about employment. The post pandemic world is clearly moving towards being more transactional anyway. Caring about your company, brand or work maybe the thing of the past.

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