Moonlighting, Wipro, IT industry – What?

The debate whether moonlighting is ethical or not recently sparked on social media in India when #wipro Chairman Rishad Premji tweeted about a month back “There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating – plain and simple”. There is no doubt that the Wipro Chairman takes the matter of moonlighting seriously which became evident when Wipro fired its 300 employees on 22 September over the case of #moonlighting for ‘rival companies’.

What is Moonlighting?

Moonlighting is the practice where employees of one organization take up a second job, apart from their full-time job, in their spare time for some extra earnings. This has been in practice for quite some time and has become more pronounced since the pandemic started and the employees in the IT sector started working from their homes. This call against Moonlighting of Rishad Premji – who is also the Board Member of Azim Premji Foundation, in Board of Directors of Wipro Enterprises Limited and Wipro-GE joint venture (Well done sir!), resonated with some other IT companies such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Infosys, each of which supported the distaste for their employees taking up a part time job for some extra earning.

There are however companies such as the Food Tech startup Swiggy and Tech Mahindra which supported their employees’ right to take up a different job when they are not on the company clock by introducing a ‘moonlighting policy‘, a change that gained much support on social media. The only catch is that it will be subject to internal approvals to ensure there is no conflict of interest with Swiggy’s business, which is fair if you consider it.

It is surely a move which will become a new norm in the IT industry if the industry adapts and avoids repeating the lunacy which Wipro did.

Why Moonlighting?

In order to get some extra earnings, people take up a part-time gig in their spare time. It may be due to various reasons, the primary of which are –

  1. A subpar salary being provided by their parent company,
  2. Being made to work like a slave for approx. 9-11 hours a day or more, and
  3. Pathetic annual appraisal percentage,

reasons which are quite lost on Mr. Rishad Premji, in my opinion. It is easy to do moral policing when you are the Chairperson of a big revenue holding company such as Wipro. Perhaps the good sir forgot his struggling days…or maybe not given that he is the son of tycoon Mr. Azim Premji and the grandson of Mr. M.H. Hasham Premji, and is now counted as the 17th richest family in Asia according to Forbes. People do not mind that he is increasing his wealth, they just find it highly offensive when he belittles and insults their struggles all the while they are working for him.

We are well aware that the tech sector in India consists of employees having long working hours on pathetic salary expected to work on weekends sometimes while the HR department mandates a 60-90 day of notice period which includes all the accrued leaves being negated if the employee resigns. People working are well aware that they are paid a fraction of the service they are providing to the international clients and projects. All the while the company swims in profits saving costs by implementing a work from home and hybrid models.

Should there be Moonlighting?

To find an answer to this question there are different facets that should be considered regarding the tech industry.

Firstly, we should consider the fact that moonlighting is not some new concept that has suddenly become a new trend amongst IT sector employees. If you consider the Silicon Valley, this is one of the Open secrets of the tech world that everyone knows and which has been around for a very long time. And this current controversy in India actually did not originate in India. It did in U.S. where employees enjoy 4 days a week work life saw a huge rise in the trend of taking up a second part-time job as the high inflation rate has hit the U.S. market. This sometimes collided with their full-time job and even breached the non-compete clause in their contracts. However, there have not been any such significant and harsh steps taken against it as Wipro did. A LinkedIn user aptly points out that if companies start getting so serious about moonlighting, then more 65% of the developers will be jobless within a week.

Secondly, there are the moral facets that should be considered here. Indian tech giants often consider its employees nothing more than machines which enables them to mine more profits. The notion that a company has control over the part of your life when you’re off the clock, dictating what you should or shouldn’t do, is supportive of the above statement, not to mention downright regressive and tyrannical. An individual’s time when they’re off the clock is not owned by the company in any way and they are free to do what they please.

Pragmatically, the purpose of a company is ultimately to earn more money. A company does not operate with the vision to do philanthropy. Philanthropy, charity, social work, contribution in GDP, etc., are the byproducts of minting profits by providing employment. So, it could be considered a bit rich when the Chairmans and COOs of such private companies talk about it being an “ethical issue” or “Cheating” or about “transparency”. It’s downright hypocritical which stems from the notion that they own the employees instead of having a symbiotic relationship.

However, contrary to this, an employee working for the competitors separately does pose a risk to the company and the company too has every right to safeguard its interests. But in the country like India where employees are poorly paid and the employment contracts have vague non-compete clauses which does not define who the competitors are actually forms a very thin line between what’s ethical and what’s not.

Ultimately, companies cannot stop anyone from doing what they want when they are on their own time. So, a middle-way, a common ground needs to be found between the companies and the employees otherwise this may blow out of proportion where neither party will be a winner. This will also mean that there will now be rethinking about the work from home and hybrid models of work which is a different can of worms. Swiggy’s model could be adopted by the IT companies who have a problem with their employees moonlighting. It’s stock price is sure to plummet.

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