Is Moonlighting Cheating To One’s Own Organisation?

Moonlighting, the phenomenon where employees of a company can take up secondary jobs after regular work hours, has been much of a highlight after Swiggy’s HR head availed this policy to their full-time employees and since then it has raised a spark


Moonlighting is a new topic and every organisation has a different view on it.  As a concept, first we need to understand if it implies taking up a second job, in addition to full time work, without the knowledge of the current full-time employer? Or is it taking up the second job or gig by employers’ consent?

Now, according to Wipro’s Chairman Rishad Premji, moonlighting is nothing more than "cheating - plain and simple.” While C P Gurnani, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Tech Mahindra, at the Business Today’s event India @ 100 Economy Summit on Friday, said that he might make moonlighting a policy in his company if he is given a chance, but the workers should be open about it. It is also a very industry-specific topic and while some industries like e-commerce or retail, hospitality may be okay to allow it, there are others related to data-driven, security, consulting or insurance industries where there can be a risk to clients and hence not possible.                                                                Rajeev Bhardwaj, CHRO, Sun Life Asia service Centres is of the view that, “It is also about how organisations look at their resources and plan their work/time. Of course this policy works in favour of employees and can also be termed as a positive act in the name of talent retention where an employee may decide to stay with an organisation because they can take up another job. But, on the other hand it can also have a negative impact where an employee begins to use the same skill-set somewhere else and increase security risk for clients.”

Industry Speaks

When asked if sustaining via moonlighting model is ethical or not, there were myriad of responses. While some claim that its cheating to one’s own organisation, few others are also of the view that if employees can manage and not hamper the productivity then they may.

Amit das, CHRO, Benett Coleman Group states that, “if it is without the employers’s knowledge, it may not be considered a good practice. However, if the employer knows, and the employee can manage both jobs without sacrificing productivity, there is no harm.”

Similar are the view of Bhardwaj as well, “If an employee is moonlighting and still meets his/ her deliverables and there is no issue with their performance, then it may work well for certain organisations who are in favour of moonlighting. This is totally upto to the organization to decide.”

 In fact it has now been argued that a second job or a gig in those areas that a person is passionate about, increases satisfaction, and engagement. Companies can benefit from this arrangement in such cases. Not only this, such assignments also build more diverse skills in the incumbent. For example they may learn more about another industry, and can bring that knowledge in their current work to improve their company’s processes, or product.  However, some points potential pitfalls must be kept in mind:

  1. Stretching for long hours continuous may cause burnout, which in the long run will harm the employee, and organization.
  2. It is practically very difficult to keep both the gigs/jobs completely isolated.

Considering the question of an employees’ productivity can be kept in a check, an organisation can look at many ways to ensure their productivity dosen’t decline. “Setting right KRAs for timely performance and appraisal systems, to support employees with offline and online training to up their skill-sets and promote their growth are some of the key steps that an organization can take. In addition, organizations need to have an efficient “listening and check-in” mechanism in place to understand how their employees are feeling and what their needs are. Engagement surveys, pulse-surveys where in timely “check-in’s” are done with employees on a regular basis are great tools to understand employee sentiment. Basis these surveys and feedback received; an organization can take timely action to resolve a problem at an early stage,” asserts Bhardwaj.

Point In Question

Now, the other side of a coin also states that if a person has taken up an assignment in the same field that s/he is employed full time, because this is a specialized area of expertise for the person, how do we ensure that the company’s confidential or proprietary information is not used in the other assignment? Or that one company invested in training and the other company reaps the benefits without paying for the training? Or that the person is not using the time in one job to complete the other assignment?

Another point is cost of software licenses. Say a company has bought expensive software licenses for full time work. The same software could be used to develop a solution for another client, without that client paying for the software cost. So, one company pays, and another benefits. In such cases, how do we ensure fair use/ or fair revenue share for the spending company? 

To which Das responds, “Organisations will need to relook at the way they define roles. Instead of a composite role, they can start defining al the key tasks that make up the role. Then they can assign a rate card to each task. Whoever performs a task within the specified criteria gets paid as per the rate card. You can think of this as a skill menu and a rate card for each skill. We can have a job being done by 2 or 3 professionals. Think making of a movie as an example. Different people with different skills come together to make a movie. Movie is the deliverable, and direction, music, acting, etc, are various tasks/jobs.

He further explains by quoting an example; many IT product companies have shown the way by institutionalizing 20 per cent passion project policy where an employee can work on a project of his/her choice provided the company has the first right of refusal on the product/service/business idea developed.

Bottom Line

If we analyse, more than one job has been around for a long time. Doctors, lawyers, actors, musicians, and many other professionals have been doing it for a long time. It has always been there, but now it is permeating into more knowledge jobs. And according to Das, its Here to stay. “HR will simply need to prepare for a world of portfolio careers as I indicated earlier,” states Das.

It is also a very industry specific topic and while some industries like e-commerce or retail, hospitality may be okay to allow it, there are others related to data-driven, security, consulting or insurance industries where there can be a risk to clients and hence not possible. “It is also about how organizations look at their resources and plan their work/time. Pros can be talent retention, an employee may stay with an organization because they can take up another job, and cons include employee using same skill-set somewhere else; less/ reduced focus on current job, fatigue and security risk for clients,” asserts Bhardwaj.

Overall, it may sound exciting but for many organisations it may not be a viable or sustainable model.

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