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Home > 2023 > Moonlighting: Boon or Bane - HR Manager Challenges | Nand L. Dhameja, (...)

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 4, January 14, 2023

Moonlighting: Boon or Bane - HR Manager Challenges | Nand L. Dhameja, Manish Dhameja, Ridhi Khattar

Saturday 14 January 2023


by Nand L. Dhameja, Manish Dhameja, Ridhi Khattar *

The last decade has been tumultuous in Indian history, one is the demonetisation of higher currency notes i.e., Rs. 1000 & Rs. 2000 in November 2016; covet-19 pandemic is another. The latter, no doubt, resulted in lakhs of casualties, it had led to many new developments. Work from Home (HFM) concept has brought in new ways of doing things and new way of life, it has introduced newer work culture and newer teaching methodology.

WFH has now become work from anywhere (WFA), has resulted in reduction in working space and also reduction in the workforce. Estimates are that workplace requirement has reduced by 30 to 70 percent, similarly workforce has shrunk by about a quarter. This has adversely affected the working of HR department; moonlighting has emerged as a new concept and also has thrown a big challenge for the HR department.

Moonlighting is that a person is handing at a time more than one job; or one employed person is simultaneously looking for other job(s). This no doubt adds to one’s earning, or increases take-home pay and makes the life more comfortable; and as such is attractive at micro-level. On the other hand, looking from the economy view point, where we are struggling for higher employment, or are planning for creation of newer jobs and employing more people; moonlighting (where a person goes for more jobs simultaneously) would not be a healthy sign. Further, one person handling more than one job may result in fracturing of his focus on the main job or conflict of interest arising from sharing competing information.

Moonlighting Origin:

Taking on a second job to supplement one’s income, usually at night, hence the name, dates in this sense from 1957 according to the OED. Earlier but now obsolete usage from 1882, moonlighters were members of the Irish Land League who carried out night attack on tenants who continued to pay rents in defiance of the Land League’s boycott on rent,
Term OED Oxford English Dictionary
(Source::Idiom Origins - Moonlighting - History of Moonlighting

On one side, moonlighting is remunerative, makes one richer and happier, may motivate a person to use his fuller capabilities. This practice, may not be permissible under law. For example, a teacher employed in an educational institution, or a doctor in a government hospital getting a non-practice allowance are not permitted simultaneously to go for private teaching or private practice.

However, there are many instances where people respect the laid down norms and are not attracted by moonlighting. A few instances to illustrate are:

  • A well-known young management professor having quit his permanent job, works as a freelancer and undertakes assignments with high rank business schools in India and abroad for sharing his marketing skill with the budding managers; and also, does consulting assignments; this is situation of gig employee having no principal-agent relationship.
  • A senior professor of an educational institution, is available to his students to guide/mentor one hour every day say, from 8 pm onwards without any charge;
  • Similarly, one senior eye surgeon attached with a hospital, helped during covid-19 private patients without any charge on the plea that he was an hospital employee and did not undertake private practice.
  • Example of Jannese Torres is an interesting case of moonlighting as she left her job of earning $80,000 annually as an engineer; she took up a new regular job and started a podcast about personal finance; she has 10 income streams, including blog and podcast ads, affiliate marketing, speaking engagements, digital course downloads and brand partnerships and makes more than $420,000 annually. This is a case to motivate those who struggle to get regular jobs or are fed-up with the 9 to 5 office routine. (Source: Singh Rahul Sunil Kumar CNBC)
  • The above situations may only be stray cases and not very common, but organisations provide policy as regards moonlighting.

Dr. Verghese kurien who worked towards bringing a ‘White Revolution’ in India and executed the much-needed programme of “Operation Flood”, is an interesting case of moonlighting. Dr. Kurien after his return from the USA with his master degree in mechanical engineering on government scholarship, was sent by the government in 1949 as an officer in the dairy division for a period of five years to run-down, experimental Creamery at Anand, now at Gujarat. During his service at Anand, he used to go to Mumbai city on week-ends under the pretext to work voluntarily to tinker with the primitive dairy equipment. This was to help Tribhuvan Das Patel, to help to process milk of the farmers brought after a strike in 1946, and of the co-operative formed to purchase their milk at nearby Kaira (now Kheda). Thus, Dr, Kurien’s going to Mumbai on weekends to help in the procurement of equipment to process the milk is an illustration of moonlighting.

As we know, cyber security practices, has been one of the fastest growing businesses. The Big Four professional firms —EY, Deloitte, PwC, and KPMG—had large cyber security practices, in particular during Covid-19 pandemic. when the practice of work from home (WFH) was the norm. An associate director working with Deloitte’s security cyber unit was running a hacking firm, a case of moonlighting, and was fired from his services for running a hacking firm.

As such, organisations normally laid down HR Policy, as regards moonlighting, example of HR Policy of an academic institution is as under:

“You will undertake any outside assignment during the period of your service in the institute only with the prior permission of the Director”. 

The point for consideration is that how many believe and act on the principle of organisational interest first and self-latter.

Similar to that of Gandhi’s Talisman, that a person employed while accepting additional part-time job should contemplate that his step of accepting part-time job would any way not adversely affect his employer or organisation interest’s; this is a situation of moonlighting.

In Japan, principle of life-time employment is the norm, and even during pandemic, laying-off the employees were not very common, organisations very rarely laid off their employees, rather the employees continued with reduced working hours with reduced pay. As such, there is absence of moonlighting. .

Thus, moonlighting is defined as an employee’s propensity to work with two different companies at the same time. To work in both the companies they divide their work on the basis of day and night. One comes across cases observing the laid-out employment norms or also go for moonlighting. This all depends upon one individual approach to work. Some organisations allow moonlighting with permission as mentioned above.

According to Vineet Nayar, founder and chairman of the Sampark Foundation and former CEO of HCL Tech, moonlighting is inevitable and is made worse by low compensation pay and lack of opportunities for innovation, despite efforts by Indian IT service companies to tackle the practice. Moonlighting is described as the act of working secretly at a second job while working full-time at a company, and this has become prevalent, in particular, for I.T workers to start doing freelance and a gig work on the side.

With the growing internet usage, moonlighting is gaining prominence, and is an unstoppable event. Nayar observed that you can resist it but can’t stop it. You need to understand the reasons behind it, He believed that moonlighting should be well-regulated to protect client confidentiality, but it can’t be stopped. Three key drivers of moonlighting in the IT sector are as:

  • widening gap between the salaries of freshers versus top management; for example, the median annual pay of CEOs Zoomed 835 percent during 2012 and 2022, while the corresponding percentage for the freshers was just 45;
  • lack of purpose and innovation in the profit-driven culture of IT companies; and
  • growing start-up economy.
    Most of the top Indian IT companies including Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys, Wipro, HCL Tech, IBM, Tech Mahindra, and Larsen & Toubro Infotech (LTI) have issues concerning moonlighting as:
  • Infosys, in its e-mail titled, “no double lives” to employees, said that “...dual employment is not permitted as per the Employee Handbook and the Code of Conduct”. Employees were warned that they would be fired if caught moonlighting. The company laid down guidelines for employees to pursue side gigs while keeping managers informed of their activities.
  • Similarly, IBM India management through email defined the act of moonlighting and what activities would be considered moonlighting under IBM’s purview; Sandip Patel, managing director termed moonlighting as not ethical;
  • Wipro fired over 300 employees found moonlighting while working on client-sensitive data in the company, chairman, Rishad Premji termed moonlighting as ‘cheating’ as some employees were working for its competitors using their Universal Account Number (UAN) from the employers’ portal of the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF),
  • TCS communicated that the moonlighting was unethical.
    (source: DEBANGANA GHOSH, Moonlighting is caused by low pay, dissatisfaction with IT firms, Money Control   November, 8, 2022) /

Moonlighting may take various forms as:

  • Full moonlight, when an employee takes another job in his free time thinking that he is not paid well as per his qualification;
  • Half moonlight or Quarter moonlight depending on the proportion of his time on another part-time job to supplement his earnings;
  • Blue moonlighting when an employee having got positive appraisal, is not satisfied with his enhanced income and looks for some additional job that also does not bring in fruit as per his expectation;
  • Black moonlighting when an employee takes another job without intimating his employer or without his permission; this is cheating or is illegaland is against company’s policy; and reflects failure of HR policy the company.
  • Why moonlighting: As mentioned earlier, employees go for extra income, or are looking for job suiting their capabilities; or are not being recognised in the present job; or plan to utilise their spare time.
    Moonlighting has many a times, adverse effects like, clash of interest due to working on the competing business, or employees are not focussed on their job, or feel fatigued, or lose their proper sleep affecting the exiting job, or indiscipline among employees, and thus is criticised by the management. The management should look for ways to overcome and develop policy for moonlighting.

In short, challenging issues to be addressed include: 

  • employees may or may not need to tell the employer that they have another job; it all depends on the moonlight policy of the organisation; 
  • in case moonlight policy is not in in place, employees are not obligated to tell or inform about any additional positions. On the other hand, in case moonlight policy explicitly requires employees to seek approval before starting a second job; any non-compliance would lead to disciplinary action;
  • as observed by Vineet Nayar moonlighting is unstoppable, it cannot be stopped but can be regulated before it becomes a case of black moonlighting;
  • as such, a company must have a well laid out moonlighting policy and that should be communicated to the employees. In this respect, “Three-Question Rule”, framed by Acharya Chanakya, is very pertinent where every manager should ask, or management should consider while framing the HR Policy, “The Three-Question Rule” is as under:
  • Why am I doing it?
  • What results will the action yield?
  • And will I be successful?
     Further, growing gig employee market is likely to put pressure on moonlighting unless there are steps to impart developing and matching skills to the gig employees. As we all know, gig worker is defined as a person who performs work and earns from such activities outside traditional employer-employee relationship. The gig employee market is estimated at 426 million (informal + temporary workers) i.e., 92 percent of India’s active labour force; and the gig employee market is estimated to increase with the growing demographic dividend primarily as the educational organisations are disconnected from reality, and labour laws are non-updated.

Lastly, moonlighting is a double-edge sword, if properly used, it is a motivator, increases the earnings as well as skill of employee and employer; otherwise, it would be a step towards the downfall of the organisation; compliance with the sound HR Policy of management should be a fit test of Chanakya’s “Three-Question Rule”.

* (Authors: Nand L. Dhameja, Professor Emeritus FMS, Manav Rachna International Institute of Research & Studies (MRIIRS), Faridabad & Manish Dhameja, Senior Banker worked in South Africa, UAE and South Asia Dr. Ridhi Khattar, FMS, MRIIRS, Faridabad | Opinions expressed are of the authors and not the organisations to which they belong)

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