The IT industry never fails to grab headlines. More often than not, the headlines are about innovations that unleash the future into the present. Although, for the last few years, all is not well within the industry. At one end, tech employees are coping with a “disruptive saga of mass layoffs” rearing its ugly head. In contrast, on the other end, tech employers have been forced to deal with the unethical practice of Moonlighting flashing like lightning all over the tech landscape
Here are some of the shocking headlines the IT industry is still recovering from!
As the uncertainty of being unemployed looms over tech personnel, tech organizations are cracking down on employees who seem to be loyal by day and go rogue by night.
While the Indian Tech giant Wipro fired 300 of its employees for working for their direct competitors, Happiest Minds, another IT company in India, has fired its employees for taking up dual jobs while being on the company’s payroll.
What is Moonlighting? What is driving tech employees towards it? Is the harsh stance of tech organizations against it justified?
Let us understand Moonlighting from all viewpoints and decode its implications for all stakeholders.
Moonlighting: Fair and Square or Foul Play
Staying true to the term, “Moonlighting” refers to the act of employees taking up additional employment opportunities in addition to their full-time day job. It is a classic case of employees “burning the midnight oil” to make some extra money on the side. While Moonlighting in some form or another isn’t new to various other professions, Moonlighting by IT professionals has caused considerable turbulence in the tech landscape of the country.
Let us further explore this concept by drawing parallels with Moonlighting in other professions and the IT industry. By gauging the type and extent of moonlighting in other industries, you can better judge what’s acceptable and what is not, if at all!
Moonlighting And Its Vivid Shades
Since the dawn of professions, Moonlighting has existed in a multitude of industries in one form or another. Be it high school teachers or university professors taking tuition classes to supplement their income or a government-employed Doctor choosing to practice privately; these are some of the many examples of Moonlighting in different industries. Let us look at them closely to understand its implications on the performance of the professionals.
“Mr. Balbir Singh (name changed) teaches physics to higher secondary school students in a Government School. To amplify his earning potential, he takes tuition classes from 5 to 7 in the morning and reports for duty at 8 am, where he teaches students of the government school, which also include underprivileged children who take admission in government schools in their quest for knowledge.”
There seems to be nothing wrong with the above case, right? WRONG!
What we don’t get by reading the above paragraph is how the early morning tuition classes are making Mr. Balbir Singh sleep off in his chair instead of teaching the students in the school. When confronted by the students and even their parents about his lack of teaching, he blatantly asks them to join his tuition classes if they actually want to learn physics.
Why should underprivileged children pay hefty tuition fees for the education that is their fundamental right?
Aren’t the early morning tuition classes preventing Mr. Balbir from conducting the duties the government has employed him for with utmost sincerity?
As human beings, there are limitations to our capability for optimal performance. And as professionals, it is our moral responsibility to give the best of us to our primary job.
Almost every profession is full of Mr. Balbirs who neglect their primary role and dedicate their entire time and energy towards the side hustle they set up owing to their primary job.
Dr. Sharma (name changed) is a urologist at an esteemed Government hospital. His shift starts at 10 in the morning and ends at 5 in the evening. While an endless queue of patients in dire need of treatment wait for him eagerly, he habitually comes by 11 and leaves by 4.
Because he runs a private clinic just near the government hospital, and his “business associates” often lure people standing in the queue to get treated at the earliest for a “nominal fee.”
All the patients that don’t get treated before 4 pm at the hospital today have no other option than to wait for the next day.
Or do they?
Dr. Sharma is committed to serving these underprivileged patients at his private clinic from 4 pm to 7 pm or even 10 pm.
Such is the dedication of Dr. Sharma towards suffering patients.
He is even glad to take up late-night assignments where he operates on patients in the middle of the night, where the operations should have taken place at the government hospital in the first place. Such is the dedication of Dr. Sharma towards his private practice, which eventually leads to the suffering of the poor and the persecuted that knock at government hospitals’ doors for inexpensive medical care.
“Nikhil (name changed) works as a backend developer for one of the leading tech giants of India. After a tiring day at work, he gets home, has dinner, and opens his laptop to work on a contractual basis for another client. Little does he know that the client is no one else but a service provider for a firm that is a direct competitor of the organization he works for during the day.”
Is it possible that Nikhil might use the innovations he’s exposed to at work to create solutions for his contractual client?
Will Nikhil stay as productive as before if he continues to work 12-14 hour shifts for weeks on end?
Is there a probability that, knowingly or unknowingly, Nikhil might give away the Intellectual Property of his parent company to their direct competitors?
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Neha (name changed) has been working from home since forever. With an extra laptop and extra time at hand, she decided to put them to better use. She decided to apply for a full-time job in addition to her existing one and got shortlisted. Now she uses her work laptop and personal laptop to work for two employers around the clock.
Do you think her productivity will be affected while sailing on two boats?
What if both her employers schedule crucial meetings at the same hour?
Are there ways to detect her dual employment?
The first two cases of Moonlighting definitely raise questions over the morality of the deed, while the following two cases put things in context for the IT industry as a whole.
Why are Employees pro-moonlighting?
The above question is a rhetorical one, after all. Why wouldn’t employees be pro-moonlighting? We are now stepping into an era of “hustle culture” and having multiple income streams. If you’re not productive 24x7 and not earning in surplus, are you even adulting, right? There are many reasons for employees choosing moonlighting; we have listed some of them down below.
Money Is The Root Of the “Moonlighting” Evil
Randstad India has reported a 25-30% increase in Moonlighting in the Indian IT industry in the last three years. As per a CNBC report,” The market is shifting from an employer-driven market to a talent-driven market,” says Viswanath PS, the managing director and CEO of Randstad India.
“The root cause is the money, software developers are not paid proportionate to the amount of work that they are doing. I think a lot of us would not moonlight if we feel we are paid fairly,” he added.
Moonlighting has also become more rampant ever since remote work became the norm during the pandemic, said Viswanath. “In an office, employers have the ability to monitor people more closely. But in a work-from-home environment, you could have multiple machines that you are logging into.”
The program company HackerRank, in a 2020 report, found that the average salary of Indian developers was about $38,000 per year, almost three times less than their US counterparts.
According to Sashi Kumar, the head of sales at Indeed India, a number of reasons are driving Indian IT professionals towards moonlighting. “These include the desire to supplement their income due to low salaries and rising inflation, the need for financial independence, the impact of the pandemic on job security, and the quest for entrepreneurial pursuits.”, says Sashi Kumar.
It is common for IT services companies to hire thousands of freshers every year to manage margins and control costs. A company that treats its employees as labor and not as capital is likely to see low levels of commitment and engagement.
It is easy to see the disparity between the wage growth of senior management and freshers by comparing their wage growth. Between 2012 and 2022, Infosys’ CEO’s salary grew from 80 lakhs to 79.75 crore, while that of freshers went from 2.75 lakhs to 3.6 lakhs. Town Hall meetings, Glassdoor and Quora are proof of this fact.
Moonlighting: Both the cause and effect of Quiet Quitting
Quiet Quitting is when employees do only what’s asked and hold back from excelling at their work. It is similar to students studying just to pass than actually to learn and secure the maximum score.
While some employees who are disinterested in work seek new opportunities on the side, there are other sets of employees who quietly quit to better focus on their second job.
Quite a few employees are practicing Quiet Quitting as it prevents them from exhaustion so that they still have fuel left in the tank to work on their second job.
Indeed’s Kumar cites moonlighting as another workplace trend that has gained momentum over the past few years due to a revolutionary change in the meaning of work.
“These movements reflect a changing mindset among young professionals, who no longer see going above and beyond at work as beneficial,” he added. “This shift has led to trends focused on work-life balance, flexibility, and breaking away from the traditional 9-5 model.”
Why are Tech Employers anti-moonlighting?
Irrespective of the industry, no employer would like their employees working for someone else. But it gets trickier and riskier when it comes to the IT industry.
In the IT industry, the stance on moonlighting often differs from other professions. IT professionals are often privy to sensitive company information, work on proprietary projects, and handle data security. As a result, moonlighting can raise concerns about divided loyalties, conflicts of interest, and potential data breaches.
Example: An IT developer working for a cybersecurity firm moonlighting as a freelance consultant for a competitor’s clients could compromise confidential information and harm their employer’s business interests.
Additionally, in some cases, moonlighting can lead to reduced productivity or focus during regular work hours, which may impact the quality of the primary job.
Despite the potential ethical concerns, moonlighting can be necessary for some IT professionals. In certain regions, the high cost of living or inadequate compensation in the IT industry may drive individuals to seek additional income through moonlighting.
Example: A junior software developer working for a start-up in an expensive city may find it challenging to make ends meet solely on their primary salary, prompting them to explore moonlighting opportunities.
In such cases, it becomes crucial to strike a balance between ethical considerations and the practical need for extra income. IT professionals must exercise caution and transparency, ensuring that moonlighting engagements do not compromise their primary job responsibilities or breach any legal agreements.
Verdict Of The Industry Veterans: Drawing a line between Ethical and Unethical Moonlighting
Here is what the industry bigwigs have to say about Moonlighting:
“The reality is that there are people today working for Wipro and working directly for one of our competitors, and we have actually discovered 300 people in the last few months who are doing exactly that,” said Wipro chairman Rishad Premji.
“If you actually look at the definition of moonlighting, it is having a second job secretly. I’m all about transparency. As a part of transparency, individuals in organizations can have very candid conversations,” Premji said at an event, reiterating that current employees working for rival firms are a “complete violation of integrity in its deepest form.”
For NG Subramaniam, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Tata Consultancy Services, moonlighting is an ethical issue.
Infosys has clearly warned its employees against moonlighting through emails sent by the HR department. The emails clearly state that all employees must read their employment contracts before taking a second job. Furthermore, the organization has also warned the employees that taking up another job during or post-working hours will result in definite termination.
On September 15, Sandip Patel, the MD of IBM India too, called moonlighting unethical.
However, the CEO of Tech Mahindra, CP Gurnani, has a different take altogether. He said he could be open to the practice if it enables employees to make extra money.
Mohandas Pai, the former director of Infosys, also agrees with Mr.Gurnani on the issue. He doesn’t view moonlighting as “cheating.” “Employment is a contract between an employer who pays me for working for them for ‘n’ number of hours a day. Now what I do after that time is my freedom, I can do what I want,” Business Today quoted him as saying.
Swiggy follows an “industry first” policy that allows moonlighting for its employees. “Any project or activity that is taken up outside office hours or on the weekend, without affecting productivity, and does not have a conflict of interest, can be picked up by the employees,” Swiggy said.
How can organizations prevent moonlighting?
Although there is no assured way of preventing moonlighting, there are certain ways in which organizations can ensure that employees don’t go rogue. Offering incentives and appraisals, paying appropriate remuneration, and rewarding employee performance might do the trick. Also, using productivity tools to track employee working time, having a precise moonlighting policy in place, and a stern warning in cases of consistent poor performance can help to keep employees in check.
Hiring a workforce from a reliable source might address the issue at its core. Organizations can depend on well-founded talent-hiring agencies such as ResourceQueue to secure resources on a full-time or contractual basis. With end-to-end staff management, HR assistance, and national search and selection, organizations can fail-proof their projects with pre-vetted dedicated developers that work true to their skills and experience while doing justice to your expectations.
While common across professions, Moonlighting becomes a more nuanced issue when applied to the IT industry due to concerns over data security, divided loyalties, and conflicts of interest. Companies may restrict moonlighting to protect their interests, which can lead to ethical dilemmas for IT professionals seeking additional income or personal growth.
Ultimately, whether moonlighting is considered ethical or unethical for IT professionals depends on the specific circumstances and the policies and agreements in place. IT professionals must understand their employment contracts, communicate transparently with their employers, and consider the potential impact on their primary job before engaging in moonlighting activities. Striking the right balance between personal aspirations and professional responsibilities is key to navigating the ethical complexities surrounding moonlighting in the IT industry.