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Moonlight on the high street: Can India Inc. swing it like Swiggy?

By deciding to set employees free to moonlight, Swiggy is zigging when others are zagging. Might other suits follow suit?

August 05, 2022 / 10:30 AM IST
To moonlight is to do a second job, typically secretly, and in addition to one’s regular full-time employment.

To moonlight is to do a second job, typically secretly, and in addition to one’s regular full-time employment.

When Birlasoft CEO Dharmender Kapoor received a complaint regarding an employee working for seven companies, he said, “It's hard to catch such cases.”

With the extensive adoption of work from home post-pandemic, moonlighting has become a reality in today’s workforce. So, food and grocery delivery platform Swiggy has gone ahead and embraced what seems to be the order of the day.

The company has allowed employees to take up external projects for free or for “economic consideration”, subject to internal approvals.

Can this become a trend for a chunk of India Inc., where employees are made to sign onerous non-compete policies, let alone being allowed to take parallel jobs?

Does Swiggy shine a light on a hidden trend?

Close

To moonlight is to do a second job, typically secretly, and in addition to one’s regular full-time employment.

"The biggest shift that HR managers should make is to move away from being policy police to people enablers,’’ Swiggy HR head Girish Menon, told Moneycontrol. “Instead of questioning why, the correct question should be why not.”

Priyam Bhatnagar (name changed) is a 3D animator and graphic designer at a VFX firm. He has a lot of free time after, and often during the working hours of his primary job. To earn some extra bucks, he started moonlighting.

“Since writing is also my passion, I also work for a content creation company, which pays well. My secondary job doesn't demand that I come to the office but focuses on results instead. It's working for me so far,” he said.

"The Swiggy policy is the child of a post-pandemic, hybrid world where people have discovered various interests that they want to pursue as side hustles," Saumitra Chand, career expert at job portal Indeed India, observed.

“Creating a policy around this foregrounds the conversation, allowing more transparency between employers and employees,” he said.

Swiggy may not be the first

Although not termed as a moonlighting policy, business process management company WNS launched its “additional engagement policy” three years back for Indian employees.

The policy allows them to pursue additional engagements as long as they do not conflict with the business interests of WNS or the employee’s job responsibilities.

“It offers them the freedom to consider creative pursuits and hobbies, start-ups, family businesses, online e-commerce ventures, as well as academic pursuits,” R Swaminathan, Chief People Officer, WNS, said.

Fake it until you make it: is it a cultural shift?

Per a McKinsey study, 70 percent of employees said that their sense of purpose was defined by work. Millennials and the Gen-Z set have a tendency to lead multi-hyphenated lives, said Piali Dasgupta, SVP  Marketing, of Columbia Pacific Communities.

“This is a cultural shift, and therefore, there is a good chance that more and more companies wanting to retain Gen Z and millennial talent would follow suit and introduce such policies," she said.

Like many of us, Lucknow-based Ankit Singh (name changed) was unsure about his career plans. So he did his B. Tech and landed a job in an IT firm. Subsequently, he realised that his interest lies in videography.

“I wasn’t confident of leaving my well-paying job to pursue my dream of being a videographer, as it pays very little initially,” he said. Singh began moonlighting as a videographer. Eventually, after two years, he quit his IT job.

Will India Inc. accept it?

Organisations are concerned about the loss of productivity when employees work on more than one assignment without the primary employer’s knowledge, said Rishu Garg, Chief People Officer of online lingerie store Zivame.

Garg narrated cases where people were found to have multiple PF accounts, were using the assets of one company for doing the work of another and were working for competing firms.

The last is of particular concern, as employees are privy to sensitive and crucial information.

Garg and Rajul Mathur, Consulting Leader India, Work and Rewards, WTW, agree that a moonlighting policy that allows pro-bono work in areas where there is no conflict of interest with the primary employer, will see greater acceptance in the near future.

To what extent will such a policy be accepted?

Experts believe such policies will be restricted to new-age start-ups and companies that want to position themselves as progressive.

According to a report by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), workers in Indian cities worked 53-54 hours a week, higher than in other countries.

“Doing more things that feel like work will only add to burnout and fatigue. The impact of this can and will be seen in productivity and deliverables,” said Sumit Sabharwal, CEO, TeamLease HRtech.

If companies want to formalise this, Sabharwal feels that defining parameters that help measure productivity on an ongoing basis will help make this policy more acceptable.

However, HR leaders agreed that arriving at such mutually acceptable terms would be easier said than done.
Abhishek Sahu covers HR and Careers at Moneycontrol.
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