Arun Krishnan (name changed) had been aspiring to become a start-up entrepreneur ever since he passed out of college in 2018. After graduation, he worked for a while on his edtech start-up before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and played a spoilsport to Krishnan’s plans. He decided to put a pause on his start-up effort and instead, work in a petcare company in Bengaluru. Halfway through 2021, Krishnan knew that becoming an entrepreneur was his true calling. So, he resumed working on his edtech start-up while being employed.
“I worked across several verticals from social media to marketing and more. I got a hang of many skills needed to run the organisation during my stint with the company,” Krishnan says. He quit his job in August this year and has been running his business full-time since September. Moonlighting for about six months proved to be a boon for him.
The moonlighting debate
The moonlighting debate rocked the Indian business industry a couple of months ago. For the unversed, it refers to the act of taking on another job apart from a full-time, permanent job without the knowledge of the primary employer. Moonlighting became a buzzword after Wipro boss Rishad Premji voiced his displeasure with the practice on Twitter and called the trend ‘cheating’. He later revealed Wipro had fired 300 employees who were caught moonlighting.
The top brass of TCS, Infosys, HCL also expressed their displeasure over the practice. After claiming to have fired employees for moonlighting, Infosys said it will allow employees to moonlight but with permission. On the other hand, TCS’s HR head said in a recent interview that the company is building a platform for employees to take up side gigs. Premji also noted that moonlighting is fine as long as it does not conflict with company’s interests.
While the question of dual jobs remains an open-ended question in the IT sector, in the start-up world, it is pretty rampant and Krishnan is one such example.
Business Today decided to reach out to the other stakeholders to understand their perspective on the issue.
Rajiv Srivatsa, Partner and Investor at Antler India, says it may not be possible to ‘moonlight’ especially if you are working in an early-stage start-up. Srivatsa also believes the lack of loyalty towards a company among the younger generation is fuelling the trend. “Loyalties have gone for a toss,” the co-founder of Reliance-acquired Urban Ladder said, adding that his parents were “fine doing the same bank job” for their entire lives.
But, that has changed for the generations that came afterwards. “My generation would look at 3-4 jobs expanding over 6-7 years but for today’s generation even two years feels like a lot of time.”
Entrepreneur and investor Ankit Kedia call himself “old school” when it comes to discussing such matters. “I believe that if I am giving my 100 per cent to an organisation and if I can set a vision for my team then my team members should also co-pilot with me in achieving the goals.”
He explains that if an employee is working for an edtech company and joins another edtech company – then that is a breach of contract. “But if a graphic designer working for an advertising agency does some freelance work for different companies belonging to a different industry at night, then there is nothing wrong with that.”
Moonlighting is a buzzword but how will it change or shape the future of work?
The answer lies in freelancing, according to Srivatsa. He believes that those times are not far when a person will be working on several projects at a time and “will have complete control over their time.”
Ishaan Khanna (name changed) was working as a content writer in a company a few years ago. He quit his job and now works as a freelancer handling a couple of projects. Several factors influenced this shift, he says. Travel time, intense working hours and a few other factors made the full-time job feel like a complete waste of time to him. Today, Khanna says he has “control over his time” and is also able to select the type of project and the industry he chooses to work in. “It is all about acquiring one or two skills that are in demand and mastering them,” he says. Income wise as well, the decision has proved to be rewarding. Earlier he was earning Rs 10 lakh per annum, now he earns somewhere between Rs 8- Rs 20 lakh per annum depending on the project he wants to take on.
Within the start-up ecosystem as well, companies are opening up to its idea. Foodtech unicorn, Swiggy, said that it will allow its staff to work on external projects or pro-bono subject to certain conditions way back in August this year.
Another company that is adopting the freelancing way of work and is giving the freedom to its employees to “moonlight” is Australian edtech start-up Prosple which also has operations in India. “For a variety of reasons, people prefer to work from remote locations and as per their preferred work timings. It’s not hard to realise that employers need to change how they calculate an employee’s worth and productivity. Contractual and freelancing arrangements fill this expectation and productivity gap, so a skilled individual can finally take a sip of the poison they wish to have and for how long. Also, employers can be assured of receiving the best for their buck,” Vedang R. Vatsa, the Country Manager for Prosple (India) told Business Today.
When asked if they have a problem with their employees freelancing, Vatsa said, “We do not have any restrictive policy that binds our employees to what they should or should not be doing outside of working hours,” he said.
The Gen Z and the millennials think differently and that is why moonlighting will continue for the times to come, Anil Joshi, partner at VC firm Unicorn India Ventures told Business Today. Joshi believes that working at two places at the same time can be unethical, but if a person is building something of his own while working at a job he is not sure of, that’s something that can still be considered.