Three years of sporadic lockdown, the Russian-Ukraine war, establishment of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, floods in Pakistan, severe depression in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and similar global factors have led to a massive economic slowdown, with even the tech giants such as Microsoft and Google reporting lower returns and anxiety for their future. This has led to massive layoffs, and introspection on the role of some of the company’s think-tank and how to make them more productive. HCL recently laid off 300 employees who work on projects related to Microsoft, and Google is threatening layoffs.
In this environment of scary confusion, common employees must establish a second source of income to hedge themselves against any possible job loss. Swiggy released an announcement allowing its employees to moonlight as long as it does not interfere with their regular job responsibilities.
Infosys and Wipro are going the other way and have sent a strongly worded message to their employees on their zero tolerance towards moonlighting. If any employee is caught moonlighting, then they will be faced with immediate job termination. By the definition of the company, moonlighting is when an employee is working for another company during company hours. However, some employees have responded by saying that this is an unfair policy because most employees are expected to work overtime, often for more than 10-12 hours, without pay, so when will they have time to work on other projects after work hours?
This is a complex dilemma that has emerged for employees who on one hand have to contend with the possibility of being laid off and on the other, cannot secure their future with part-time job earnings. Social media has of course erupted with intense resistance to this new policy pointing out that what an employee does after work hours is their business. As long as the employee is not using the company's time and resources, violating NDAs, or disclosing the company information, the company cannot interfere with the employee’s moonlighting gigs.
Someone on Twitter pointed out that if a company is entitled to work on multiple businesses, the top management could preside over multiple projects, and the board could serve as members of other institutions and organisations, then the common employee is also entitled to utilise their free time to work on projects that interest them and helps them earn supplementary income.
Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai announced that they will reduce R&D projects by half to concentrate on AI. When an employee works on a project as a consultant for a company, they have the opportunity to build their knowledge base. Many of the companies that hire the techies from large companies are start-ups or MSMEs who otherwise cannot afford such highly skilled resource persons. While working on a second project, the employee is honing their skills and exploring new avenues to use their knowledge.
This is another outlet for employee skill training, which is a win-win for the employee and the company. Moreover, all companies have employees sign non-disclosure agreements, which means that the employee is liable for any information leak.
When a company thinks, it can start imposing such restrictions on their employees or blatantly make statements such as moonlighting is “illegal and unethical”, they are establishing a proprietary right on the employee which they can face severe pushback against. Rather than stamp down the employee’s right to seek another source of income by working on projects personally after hours, the company can support them with complementary policies that will give the employee a sense of security and encourage them.
With Google announcing that it will scale back its in-house R&D centre, Area 120, there is a greater need to create outlets for employees to explore ideas and work on new projects. Otherwise, companies will face higher attrition from talented employees who find better acceptance of their ideas, uses for their talents and improved earning potential as freelance consultants.