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Moonlighting is here to stay. Here’s why

Operating from their homes rather than offices, employees are now calling the shots as they seek to pursue their passions and enhance their earnings on their own terms. And this means moonlighting is fast becoming the new normal.

March 12, 2022 / 01:06 PM IST
(Representational image) Going forward, the role of the organisation will continue to shrink and people will plug and play as per their roles/ tasks or jobs. (Photo: Bruce Mars via Unsplash)

(Representational image) Going forward, the role of the organisation will continue to shrink and people will plug and play as per their roles/ tasks or jobs. (Photo: Bruce Mars via Unsplash)

Of late, moonlighting has been in the headlines a lot, especially after an employee was caught working for seven companies. The trend of moonlighting – working other jobs in addition to one's regular employment – has especially troubled the IT industry.

But moonlighting isn't new. It has existed in multiple forms and will continue to do so. Startups have been formed as the founders were moonlighting (Flipkart, Freshworks); many consultants moonlight before they go fully independent; teachers moonlight by giving tuitions and many employees have their side-projects or hustles.

“As per the Labour Law in India, if you are fully employed, you cannot have your own business or even work elsewhere. However, people have found ways to circumvent this,” says Bhagyashree Pancholy, Legal Advisor, All Remotely.

Why is moonlighting irking us more than ever before?

There are three specific reasons moonlighting is different today. Earlier, employees had steady jobs but there was the lure of additional income and following passions. Things have changed today.

There is a disdain for organisations: The history of organisations dates back to the Babylonian code of Hammurabi, which included the first wage and incentive programmes. Organisations were formed to protect ‘labour’. However, in the knowledge era, they are grappling to define their own existence.

“People are quitting jobs they don’t enjoy in a matter of weeks. Going forward, organisations will have to evaluate roles they will hire for full time and those that they will contract,” says Arjun Pratap, CEO and Founder, EDGE Networks, an AI-based HR tech company.

Territories and power centres have shifted: According to a Mint report, ‘for most individuals, employment in the formal sector is a monogamous relationship. The main reason this single-employer loyalty existed was that work was being done in a place owned by the employer. But, as individuals work more from their personal territory, they will start taking more ownership of their talent and time.’

People are fully aware that organisations can give up on them and that they have to safeguard and protect their own interests. In a way, moonlighting is an outcome of that.

There is no need to hold steady jobs: People have realised that work is no longer 9 am - 5 pm. It happens in spurts. Further, in certain professions, they can come together for a project (example: developers), complete the job, and disperse in a matter of months. These projects are intensive and high-paying. So, if one can work like a lion and rest like an ox, why hold a steady job?

Temporary reactions

We must give credit to several organisations and HR leaders for acknowledging this trend and creating forward-looking policies. I will also call out those who have not accepted it yet, and will have to - even reluctantly. It is better to be prepared.

Ethical moonlighting

Shaakun Khanna, Head of HCM Strategy and Transformation, JAPAC, Oracle, recently coined the term “ethical moonlighting", wherein organisations create more than one job opportunity for their employees and encourage them to take up multiple projects within the organisation itself. "Think of it as an internal Fiverr (the online marketplace for freelance services)," he says.

Obviously, though, organisations have to be prepared and safeguard their own interests. Having clear written policies will define the gatekeeping criteria. Khanna has as a framework for this model. He calls it ‘FICR’.

Companies have to prepare for:

1. Financial interest

2. Intellectual property

3. Competitive advantage

4. Resources (example: laptops, software)

While ethical moonlighting might sound exciting, Bhagyashree Pancholy, Legal Advisor, All remotely, says: “In India, the Labour Law only allows you to hold a single employment contract. So, even if organisations offer dual roles to employees, there are two important points to consider: 1) how and will the employee be paid for the second role; and 2) will that role be specifically called out in their employment contracts (as it is not legally permitted, yet).”

Rise of gig and contractual roles

While defining roles, companies have to assess a) crystal clear goals b) outcomes c) the nature of the job itself (for example: is it recurring by nature or a project that can be completed in a stipulated period?).

In future, we will see the rise of marketplaces or contracting exchanges where companies can bid for talent. Organisations will have to learn to work with these exchanges and may not even hire full-time. Says Pratap of EDGE Networks: “People are intrinsically designed to consume and money is a huge driver. The faster we accept that and adapt, the better.”

According to a study conducted by ADP Research Institute, the gig economy  accounts for a third of the world’s working population. By 2028, the population of US-based freelance workers is projected to reach 90.1 million. Since most knowledge workers want ownership of their time, it would seem like roles have to become flexible too.

My prediction: Organisations will become plug-and-play

Work is increasingly becoming decentralised. Even if people are fully employed, they will take up multiple tasks/ jobs to satisfy their wants - monetary, creative and for passion. The role of the organisation will continue to shrink and people will plug and play as per their roles/ tasks or jobs. Aspects such as organisational culture might also seem far-fetched and people will only engage with their job and not the organisation as a whole.

Organisations of the future will be ‘platforms of talent’: Think of it as a ‘talent exchange’. There will be platforms that will list talent and organisations will bid for the same. Spiel such as purpose and culture may not really fit - it will all boil down to the role, the money and the flexibility in getting the task done. Of course, governance will have to be high and individuals, too, will have to be more responsible and transparent.

Pay structures will be more equitable: Flowing from the idea above, talent prices will be competitive and out in the open. Companies such as Buffer and Coinbase already have transparent and equitable pay policies. In a capitalist society where the winner takes all, openly declaring salary structure is a bold move. It is a start towards equitable wealth-sharing and also democratising payment structures, which means that prospects or employees do not have to ‘shop’ for offers. It further means that ‘skills’ will be valued and hiring will be skill-based and not role-based.

Since the vortex of power is shifting towards employees (it already has), moonlighting is here to stay. It may not be called moonlighting anymore, since it will be the order of the day. Employees will have more than one job, and people will bid for their talent and time to get the job done.
Nisha Ramchandani is Manager-Outreach At Axilor Ventures & Writer at Future of Work.
first published: Mar 12, 2022 01:06 pm