In a bid to show its seriousness on the issue of moonlighting, last week Wipro famously lay off 300 employees who had taken up second jobs. Wipro’s chairman Rishad Premji had already warned employees against the practice of moonlighting, and even Infosys is cracking down hard on employees who are moonlighting. The problem is that most IT companies are viewing moonlighting as a conflict of interest as opposed to an opportunity for the employee to broaden their horizon and contribute to the company with a wider perspective.
On the one hand, we have the likes of Wipro, TCS and Infosys who find moonlighting a violation of their principles and question the integrity of employees who moonlight. On the other hand, Swiggy has facilitated opportunities for moonlighting for employees by creating strong conducive policies that allow employees to take advantage of any pro bono or economically rewarding opportunity that comes their way.
Which one is wiser?
According to Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, companies must not deny employees opportunities to consult with other firms. In his words, “Moonlighting represents two very significant phenomena. One is the entrepreneurial bug that has bitten every techie. Two, the talent deficit or demand for talent. For a company to forbid a young engineer from dabbling in a start-up…they (companies) do not understand the change in the model.”
The freelance market in India is currently valued at US$1.5 trillion, with over 20 million freelancers currently working in the market. These qualified professionals work for international and national clients, MNCs and start-ups, and fill an essential skill gap across the board. India is among the top 10 freelance markets in the world and one reason is that we have skilled professionals who are proficient in English and offer their services at a competitive rate. The other reason is the big push the Indian government is giving to promote start-ups in the country. start-ups cannot afford the services of qualified professionals with niche skills in a full-time capacity. Often, they don’t require them as full-time resource persons either. This is where freelancers are providing essential services that the start-up can afford.
During the lockdown, while they were working from home, many professionals discovered freelancing opportunities, and it is logical for them to capitalise on them.
Furthermore, in the face of the recession we are headed towards, it is logical for employees to use the skills they are proficient at to earn a supplementary income.
One of the contentions of the tech company management is that employees are working with competitors, using company resources and during company hours. While employees working with direct competitors of the company may pose a conflict-of-interest scenario, it is important to understand their domain expertise and the nature of the project before taking harsh steps against the employee. Swiggy and UNICEF have created a mechanism for their employees to inform the company about their position which facilitates communication and clears the scope for conflict of interest.
Freelancing is a project-based engagement, which does not come regularly. Moonlighting by its very definition states that the freelancer works after their work hour, that is, after their 8-9 hours of work commitment to the company. Many industry experts argue that large companies exploit their employees by making them work overtime with no compensation for the extra hours. And whatever an employee does after their work hours they are not accountable to the company. Also, all MNCs sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with their employees. Under its dictates, the employee is disallowed from indulging in any information breach.
Large MNCs can go on a rampage firing their employees over moonlighting, however, that is not a solution. A long-term solution should be sought, and part of it would be to accept that employees will constantly look for opportunities to earn and expand their professional horizons. Businesses cannot curb the entrepreneurial spirit of employees in an environment where there is a demand for professional skills. They can work to find conducive HR policies that clearly define the scope of employment and the employee's responsibilities. Furthermore, specific guidelines must be created for moonlighting.