AN UNHOLY WAR
A new war has been unleashed in recent months in India’s vaunted technology sector — a no holds barred war by employers, against hapless employees, branding them criminal unethical moonlighters – those having one or more jobs in addition one’s full-time job. Daggers have been hurled deep and hundreds of employees sacked.
Wipro alone sacked 300 in one go in September and its Chairman Rishad Premji dubbed moonlighters “cheaters-plain and simple”. Also, Infosys and Happiest Minds have accepted having fired employees, but have not given the exact number of employees sacked.
MINISTER BEGS TO DIFFER
Contrarily, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, India’s minister of state for skill development, entrepreneurship, electronics, and IT, while, openly supporting moonlighting, said: “Any captive models will fade. Employers expect employees to be entrepreneurial while serving them. Time will come where there will be a community of product builders who will divide their time on multiple projects. This is the future of work.”
While the jury is still out whether moonlighting is ethical or not, it is both criminal and illegal to sack employees for it with the sole exception being workers covered under the Section 60 of the Factories Act, 1948.
Sacking employees for moonlighting is one way ticket to hell — it slays careers and ruins professional and personal lives of those affected.
SWEATSHOPS CRYING WOLF
Though it was Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope who coined ‘if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’, the adage is a perfect fit to sweatshops of India – ‘IT companies’. My assertion is backed by data: “In the last one-decade FY12 to FY22, median annual pay of IT CEOs zoomed from Rs 3.37 crore to Rs 31.5 crore, while median fresher package crawled from Rs 2.45 lakh to Rs 3.55 lakh.”
Forbes India added that in four large Indian IT firms – Infosys, TCS, Wipro and Tech Mahindra – CEO compensation is between 200-1,000 times average employee compensation. Worse, in case of IT CEOs’ salary, compared to their counterparts at other large companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Maruti, Bharti Airtel and Inter Globe Aviation, the disparity is starker. At Rs 41 crore, the highest compensation of Gopal Vittal of Bharti Airtel pales in comparison to Rs 79 crore of Wipro Thierry Delaporte and Rs 81 crore of Infosys Salil Parekh.
It is sad that such unholy cows are crying wolf and sacking employees dubbing them unethical and cheaters.
It is visible to the naked eye who is the unethical cheater.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
It is time to inject a personal note.
I dare say moonlighting runs in my blood. As a child in early 1960s, I discovered that my father was a moonlighter. I did not know either the word or its meaning then.
My father, a man of small means, had a large family of nine souls to look after. His meagre earnings from day job of a clerk to government pleaders in Arrah district court in Bihar forced him to work in three shifts, after office hours tutoring children of wealthy patrons and post dinner working till wee hours before dim light kerosene lamp (we had no electricity at home) copying 100 pages long police case diaries to illegally barter them to both accuser and accused for Rs 10 each.
I confess upfront: Instinctually, I am a pathological moonlighter. Working three shifts a day is my forte.
If you are reading this story, it is proof of my moonlighting, albeit, I write with active encouragement of the CEO of consulting major BARSYL, where I work during the day and often at night. Writing is my passion, but I do get paid small honorarium per piece. It helps me meet two ends.
And this is not the sole example of my moonlighting.
During last decade, I worked simultaneously for two institutions – first, an ethical public sector (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) and second, an ethical private sector (Dhamra Port, then JV of Tata Steel and L&T). My contract with both was to work, two-and-a-half days a week as their Strategic Advisor with free weekends. Over weekends, often I moonlighted for a third firm (one of global three big — McKinsey, BCG, and Bain & Co) for a hefty Rs 50,000 ($1000) a day. My fourth moonlighting was earning from TV show appearances and fifth was writing honorarium. In FY14, while I earned salary from private sector employer, I got paid monthly honorarium from the Government of India (I was co-opted to Sreedharan Committee for reforming Indian Railways internal commercial decision taking).
I have always accounted all my sources of income to the last rupee and paid taxes honestly.
The existential question I have is – As a knowledge worker, thought leader and impact consultant, I have 86,400 seconds in 24 hours. What right my employer has on my life beyond office hours, so long as I am productive, loyal to company and not working against interest of my employer.
The beauty of my turbulent bipolar mind is such that my productivity in eight hours at work is often more than 24 hours work of my colleagues. And my side-hustle always has been outside working hours and on holidays — India has more holidays than workdays in a year.
Make no mistake, moonlighting can emerge from a hobby, or an interest and or a work opportunity or it can be monetised or can be pro bono. While working in private sector I have often provided my mind and time to government committees free and have for a long time wrote for publications, appeared on TV, and spoken in international conferences pro bono.
To my mind, the sole litmus test of ethical moonlighting is loyalty to employers, no conflict and 100% productivity at work.
FIRMS SET UP BY MOONLIGHTERS SACKING MOONLIGHTERS
I humbly submit had the founders not done moonlighting/ side-hustle, India would have been deprived of Infosys and Happiest Mind in India. And these are just two of thousands of examples. It is heart wrenching to see, Happiest Mind, a company founded by serial entrepreneur Ashok Soota, sacking employees for moonlighting. In 1999, when his Wipro colleagues were setting up Mindtree, they had Soota’s mind and blessings (he was Wipro CEO then) and he took over as Mindtree Chairman sooner. Also, when Soota left as non-executive chairperson of Mindtree in 2011 to set up Happiest Mind, he brought five Mindtree executives as cofounders (Salil Godika, Puneet Jetli, Dattatri Salagame, Aurobinada Nanda and Joseph) Anantharaju). Did Soota not moon-light as Chairman of Mindtree even for a nano-second, while setting up Happiest Mind?
Also, Infosys current CEO, who sacked employees for moonlighting, must remember that Infosys was conceived in 1981 in Pune by Narayan Murthy, Nandan Nilekani, N S Raghavan, S Gopalakrishnan, S D Shibulal, K Dinesh and Ashok Arora, all former employees of Patni Computer Systems. Definitely, they firmed up plan to set up Infosys while working together at Patni because to the best of my knowledge, the first employee of Infosys was NS Raghavan, not Murthy. Narayan Murthy, employee No. 4, took nearly year to finish his tasks at Patni and join Infosys. He had integrity to work with full productivity in Patni, even when his new baby Infosys was waiting
THE MOONLIGHTING PROFESSORS
Let me tell the tale of two moonlighter professors.
First, Peter F. Drucker. He invented ‘Management at the General Motors’ and is widely known as father of management.
In 1937, Drucker immigrated to the USA, where he worked first as a free-lance journalist, chiefly for Harper’s, but also for the Washington Post. At the beginning of 1940s, he also began teaching political science and philosophy at Bennington College in Vermont. Simultaneously, he started working as business consultant. Starting 1950, Drucker for 20 years was professor of management at New York University’s graduate business school. In 1971, Drucker moved to California, where he helped develop world’s first executive Master of Business Administration programme for working professionals at Claremont Graduate University. Its management school, where he taught until 2002, is named after him.
Drucker was and will remain the most successful moonlighter of modern era. In a career spanning, more than five decades (he died aged 95 in 2005), he published more than three dozen books, consulted extensively for corporations (General Motors, General Electric, Coca-Cola, Citicorp, IBM and many more), governments, and non-governments, and wrote thousands of articles. He earned salary from colleges where he worked, earned royalties from books, got paid per article and speech, and earned a fortune from five decades of management consulting.
No one ever dared to fire Drucker for moonlighting, instead, he is revered as the world’s greatest ever ‘Management Guru.’ Drucker coined the term ‘Knowledge Worker,’ more than six decades ago. If Drucker could be a moonlighter, so can every ordinary knowledge worker.
Two, Otto Eckstein, Economics Professor, Harvard University, best known for development of theory of core inflation. He is one of the most successful Harvard moonlighters.
When Otto Eckstein, founded Data Resources Inc. (DRI) in 1969, he probably knew that he would be at the forefront of the future — econometric forecasting businesses. But what he probably did not know is that he would be leader of a flock of Harvard professors who would be going outside university to supplement academic salaries and become multi-millionaires — the Harvard Moonlighters.
By consulting, Harvard professors get multiple benefits, the top two being on the top of their field and thousands of dollars per hour as consulting fee.
What is true for Harvard professors is true for other universities. Moonlighting is a fact of life for teachers in most reputed universities. Most surveys on moonlighting over the past five decades have found-between one-half and two-thirds professors at reputed universities are moonlighters
There is nothing inherently wrong about moonlighting. Even where there is a conflict, as long as a potential conflict can be managed, it is not a conflict anymore, and it can present opportunities which are win-win for all-employers, employees, society, and nations.
Put simply, there is innovation and joy in moonlighting.
A CASE STUDY: CIRCA 2002
Let me recount a personal story.
I got hooked to the treasure of knowledge in Harvard Business School (HBS) case studies and Harvard Business Review (HBR) articles in 1999, when Harvard trained professors at Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Manila, taught me management using Harvard case studies. Crazy me, before returning to India in May 2000, stuffed in gunny bags hundreds of HBS case studies and thousands of HBR articles of my choice (photocopied in manic high) published since 1922 and shipped them paying US$ 1000 to Singapore Airlines and got them released from customs after paying Rs 25,000 bribe (my only bribe in life) to Calcutta Airport Customs.
Unsurprisingly then, when I got a well-paying job in May 2002, in a boutique management consulting firm, I used my first salary to get annual subscription of Harvard Business Review (HBR). And it was in the November 2002 edition of HBR that I first read the case-study – ‘The Moonlighter: How should Zagante Systems Handle this Moonlighting Issue by Brownyen Fryer’.
It was my first introduction to the word ‘moonlighting’ and the dilemma it brought to company CEOs and employees. The Moonlighter was a classic case study which posed a simple question: Your best employee is taking outside work to boost his income. It is all on his own time, so do you have a right to complain?
The moonlighter in the case was Jeremy Hick, lead programmer of Zagante Systems. He was caught moonlighting at 8pm on Sunday by his boss Melanie, who that very night had decided on a promotion for Jeremy based on review of annual performance. When Melanie first confronted Jeremy about moonlighting over dinner in a Japanese restaurant, her first instinct was to sack him. But saner instincts prevailed, and she instead considered promoting him, despite moonlighting, due to his complete loyalty and extraordinary productivity and performance. The company, Zagante Systems, where Jeremy and Melanie worked did not have a moonlighting policy.
HBR and HBS case studies present problem situations for discussion. They do not provide solutions. But towards the end of case study, I had clarity, sacking Jeremy was farthest from Melanie’s mind rather advising the company to get a ‘moonlighting policy’ was foremost on her agenda.
It is a two decade-old HBR case study, but I find, in 2022, Indian IT CEOs are worse educated about moonlighting than what Zagante Systems was in 2002, despite most Indian CEOs flaunting Harvard Business Review copies spread on the coffee table in their magnificent chambers.
Disclaimer: The case study-The Moonlighter is available to me free as subscriber of Harvard Business, but to quote it, I separately purchased the article for $8.95. I believe this much every Indian CEO can afford to pay to get them educated.
ONE CANNOT STOP THE SUN FROM RISING
Drucker once said: “There is nothing as difficult and as expensive, but also nothing as futile, as trying to keep a corpse from stinking.” To me, the desperate efforts by few Indian corporates, to reduce, stop and eradicate moonlighting are as futile as trying to stop a corpse from stinking.
I postulate that it is time for Indian corporates to have new vision and devise systems and processes, to embed moonlighting as integral to their being, because moonlighting is a strong tool to make innovation and entrepreneurship thrive.
I resubmit one cannot stop a corpse from stinking and one just cannot stop the sun from rising.
WHAT IS MOONLIGHTING OR A SIDE HUSTLE?
Moonlighting has typically meant having a second job outside of work. This more often meant working for a second employer. But is now increasingly likely also to encompass an employee’s self-employed side hustle.
Doctors, lawyers, actors, musicians, consultants, professors and many other professionals have moonlighted for long.
Companies forbidding employees from working outside of their “day job” must remember, moonlighting or side hustle are not new. Merriam-Webster reports moonlighting or side-hustle entered vocabulary in 1950s, and generally refers to “work performed for income supplementary to one’s primary job”.
Modern and emerging usage focuses more specifically on the nature of supplementary work. Be informed, side hustle is not the same as a part-time job. While a part-time job still entails someone else (employer) calling the shots (including hours worked and what you’ll be paid), a side hustle gives employees freedom to decide how much they want to work and earn and from where.
History is replete with moonlighters!
Moonlighting has been more ubiquitous than our morning tea or coffee and is not limited to any particular sector or level. The biggest moonlighting beneficiaries are CEOs and Chairmen, they serve as directors on boards of other companies and get paid sitting fee, even as they sack hapless employees for moonlighting.
My schoolteachers in 1960s took private tuitions to supplement income so did my university teachers in the 1970s. Way back in 1980, an article in Washington Post, said about moonlighting in USA: “A decade ago in 1970, about 3.3 million men and 658,000 women held two or more jobs in USA. In 1980, the number of men is still 3.3 million, but number of moonlighting women has jumped to 1.4 million. Now, three in every 10 moonlighters are women…. Three-quarters of the men hold a major full-time job and then a part-time job on the side. But about half the women held two part-time jobs and no full-time job. Why do they do it? About 30 percent of surveyed said they need the money just to pay their everyday living expenses. But surprising 18 percent claimed they do it because they enjoy it. Smaller groups said they took on extra work to pay off debts, to build up a nest-egg for the future or to “buy something special.”
CUT TO PRESENT
As per a 2022 Mckinsey study, in USA, a quarter of employed Gen Z-ers work multiple jobs (compared with 16% of all workers) or hold a full-time job, but run side hustles. And as per a 2022 Deloitte study, 62% of Gen Z workers in India and 51% of millennial workers already work more than one job.
Moonlighting is neither unique to USA or India, nor a product of Covid-19.
Before Covid-19, in 2019, 13 million Americans held multiple jobs, over 3 million did so in Germany, and nearly 10% Denmark workers moonlighted. A 2017 survey found that over half of Singaporeans have another gig outside their main profession.
Even the US, UK and Indian lawmakers fish in the moonlighting pond. The New York Times opinion piece ‘New York’s Moonlighting Lawmakers’ published on September 6, 2012 tells it all. In 2022, it is much worse. In the UK, Parliamentary Register of Interests requires MPs to declare any outside incomes they receive throughout the year and allows voters to see exactly where their MPs get their income from, but it is commonly overlooked that many (if not, most) UK MPs have a supplementary income in addition to their public pay. I know even honest Indian MPs who moonlight (Google names of advocates earning more than 10 lakh per day for appearing in the Supreme Court), many, not so honest, have thriving educational institutions, cooperatives and even criminal empire as moonlighting.
Corporate CEOs and law-makers are seldom fired for moonlighting, but ordinary workers found moonlighting to help them make ends meet or build savings, or maybe to pursue a passion are hanged without trial.
I wish this was not my India. And, I dare say I am ashamed of my India, which fires ordinary hapless workers in the name of moonlighting.
BLESSING, NOT A CURSE
I posit moonlighting is a blessing and not a curse and it is time to mainstream moonlighting in India. I say so from demonstrated personal experience and having observed many moonlighters that moonlighters are happier and more optimistic, innovative and productive than one job workers.
My assertion is backed by the Adobe 2016 report- ‘Work in Progress’ and another contemporary research.
Moonlighting also helps networking opportunities, to gain new skills necessary, obtain more experience, is fun, and provides social interaction with other people.
Studies say moonlighting has helped the UK earn 346 billion pounds, and US earn $1.4 trillion. I say promoting side hustles is the nostrum India needs to become developed country by 2047.
Moonlighting can be a win-win for employers, employees, society and nation.
EMPLOYERS, FACE THE FUTURE, IT ARRIVED YESTERDAY
Moonlighting is here to stay.
It is time for CEOs to embrace it by crafting forward-looking moonlighting policy that encourages moonlighters while addresses issues of disclosure, preapproval, confidentiality, noncompete, conflict, use of company time and resources, productivity and absenteeism.
Employers it is time for Peter F. Drucker-Mirror Test (read ‘Managing One Self- Peter Drucker, 1999): “If your employee is able to meet the needs of two companies at once, maybe he’s a talent worth holding onto!”
Make it your leading mantra. Period.
A MESSAGE TO EMPLOYEES
If you wish to be a moonlighter or want to have side hustle, do it, but at your peril. There is no law that prevents moonlighting by knowledge workers, although it prevents factory workers. But keep in mind, India is not an equitable country (it is the second most inequitable nation globally) and your employers and CEOs have double standards about their moonlighting and employees’ moonlighting. Indian companies are not eBay and Adobe who support employee side hustle as a way to inspire innovation and creative entrepreneurism.
Swiggys of India are an exception.
Also be careful, do not use company time, resources, technology, and intellectual property, and proprietary company information while moonlighting.
Be 100% productive in your primary job and before moonlighting, do a reality check on your ability to handle both jobs without one adversely affecting the other. Do not bite more than you can chew and stay clear of day lighting.
Also, stay clear of conflict, it is a bad and dangerous idea to moonlight for your company’s competitor.
And never tell about moonlighting to your company HRD, I call them “Human Harassment Devils”. If you most confide, do in your boss, that, too, if you have full trust with demonstrated assurance that your moonlighting will not affect your availability to company, your productivity and performance.
Lastly, nothing is more important than delicate work-life balance. Learn from yours truly, for not maintaining work-life balance I have suffered humungous collateral damage.
And if you get caught moonlighting, be upfront, honest and discuss the situation with your boss and spouse and mentor or closest friend, if not married. Get set ready for a new job, unless you turn lucky.
Golden rule to not get caught is never allow your primary work to suffer due to moonlighting.
I wish you best of luck, my fellow moonlighters!
Moonlighters, real or waiting in the wings, read the book, ‘The 9-to-5 Cure: Work on Your Own Terms and Reinvent Your Life’ by Kristin Cardinale. Also, spend $8.95, buy, and internalise the article, ‘Entrepreneurship-Making your Side Hustle Work’ (Harvard Business Review, May 2020).
And a last word for Indian CEOs, stop surveillance of employees, read the pearls of wisdom in the article dated October 27, 2022, by Rohan Narayan Murty and Shreyas Karanth in the Harvard Business Review.
To reset your memory button, Rohan Narayan Murty is a fellow at Harvard Society of Fellows, founder of Murty Classical Library of India and founder and chief technical officer of digital transformation company Soroco, which specialises in automation using artificial intelligence source.
Rohan, incidentally, also is the son of Sudha Murthy and N R Narayan Murthy, India’s most celebrated entrepreneur and co-founder of Infosys.
I say to nay-sayers, who are against moonlighting in India, best of luck.
I rest my case.
Akhileshwar Sahay is a Knowledge Worker, Multidisciplinary Thought Leader with Action Bias, and Impact Consultant. By passion, he is a keen watcher of Changing International Scenario. Of his own volition, Sahay is a pathological ethical moonlighter, who in the fight between ‘right and more right’ always sides by the ‘more-right.’ Sahay works as President, Advisory Services of Indian Consulting Company, BARSYL. Views expressed are of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication or the company where he is employed.
Read all the Latest Opinions here