It turns out moonlighting, the practice of dual employment (typically conducted furtively with one boss blissfully unaware of another) has been rampant in IT circles during the pandemic; unsurprisingly, it’s far easier holding down two jobs working from home.
Since contradiction is encoded in human DNA, what was considered subversive and unethical just five years ago is now verging on mainstream approval. Food delivery platform Swiggy launched a ‘Moonlighting Policy’ in August which encourages employees to undertake side gigs to sustain their finances. Tech Mahindra has accepted it as a “reality” while Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for Electronics and IT, said companies need to be more flexible about these arrangements. However, traditional companies tend to take a grim view of freelancing. Last week, Wipro fired 300 people for “integrity violation”, for working for their competitors.
Where one stands on moonlighting depends largely on one’s age: under 30s are perplexed why companies should object on the grounds that as long as they’re diligently submitting their assignments, what they do after-hours is nobody’s business. People over 40 regard a professional double life as they would an extramarital affair (dodgy, and to be hidden).
At first glance, it does seem patently wrong if employees are treating their day jobs like an insurance policy, biding time till their entrepreneurial venture takes off. Clearly, the only reason they’re sticking around is because they can’t afford to quit; that headspace in itself is in conflict with a company’s business interests. It’s not a big ask, in return for a steady paycheck and guaranteed medicare, that an employee not work for the competition. For centuries, world over, when employment was controlled by governments or monarchs, loyalty has been a highly valued trait and a betrayal, the biggest offence. In fact, for most of history, moonlighting would have been considered the equivalent of treason.
Perhaps, it’s all too natural to want to have it all, especially in one’s 20s. It can happen that one dreamily misconstrues what a career involves, only to discover a shattering gap between expectation and reality. There is no shame in course correction. Since testing the waters makes the most financial sense, moonlighting is a safe start, to change. Pertinently, people taking on extra work are rarely answering an inner calling, Elon Musk style; it’s a decision to ensure ends meet. If there’s anything Covid taught us, it’s that job security is a laughable myth. After mass layoffs in almost every field post 2020, the messaging internalised is best beware, and watch out for yourself. It’s precisely because of the state of the chaotic world that some forward thinking organizations have reluctantly conceded, it’s unfair to fire employees for taking on more to get by.
The criticism of young adults nowadays is that they behave more like feckless children, commitment-phobic in both relationships and careers, with very little insight into what makes them that way. Actually, they’re just products of their environment, much like previous generations made decisions influenced by the lack of opportunities in pre-liberalization India. We were held back by conventional thinking that applauds stability over risk-taking but it’s questionable how rational it is to go about life steering clear of loss. Everyone who came of age in the 80s and 90s operates from a zone identified by behaviourial economists as The Sunk Cost Fallacy, best understood by the example of movie watching. Who hasn’t gone to a cinema, found a film insufferable in the first 15 minutes but sat through it anyway?
Congratulations for falling victim to the idea that once you’ve invested time, money and effort into something, your best bet is to persevere, blinkers on. Applied to real life, we plod on in boring marriages and unfulfilling work. There’s something to learn from the current crop of 20-somethings who are supremely comfortable switching things around. It must be acknowledged that sometimes efforts are in vain and change, while stressful, carries the tantalising lure of possibility.
The writer is director, Hutkay Films