Moonlighting Professionals in India: Clandestine and Distress

Moonlighting Professionals in India: Clandestine and Distress

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.

Indian professionals across functions, domains, and industries have excelled in making a mark in industries with their contributions. The stamp spans geography. Like the ancient saying above, professionals would have heard that in our culture, ‘the place of work is the place of worship.’ A corollary of this is ‘second jobs will increase shirking in the primary job [1].’ The global economy celebrates Indians' devotion and loyalty to their work and duties. Our ethos and belief systems enabled our professionals to learn and adopt. The foundations of our culture and social system are based on the same. One follows the same regardless of religion and social system. Jobs are based on skills, competence, allegiance to values, and beliefs of the good social drive. The opportunities and hierarchy of work are not based on placing personal well-being above the social good. The recent debate on moonlighting by professionals in the knowledge industry is resentful for a country like ours. It requires a discussion and a good understanding of the causes and new evolutionary work culture.

The knowledge industry attracts professionals at all levels. We have professionals moving in from a different sector with their subject matter expertise. A new generation of youngsters who excel in writing computer programs, data handling, hardware management, and managerial skills towards customers got together to build a new generation of work systems and firms. Managers from shop floors of auto component companies, chemical factories, banking, insurance companies, and logistics services joined workplace of knowledge industries. They had imbibed different cultures and work abilities. The new group of professionals under a new work system working to create value for customers was acceptable, where a positive work culture prevailed. The professionals experienced growth in personal income generation and wealth creation as the customers valued their services more.

Knowledge services is a fast-evolving field. We have seen drastic change cycles in this industry that require the employees to stay abreast of the fast-paced changes. If they do not, they become obsolete and redundant to the employer. This leads to job losses. Here, the question arises as to whether it is the need to build a nest egg to secure the future against potential job loss and unemployment that propels the employees in this field to take up second jobs – making hay while the sun shines!

Still, we must ask, ‘Is it justifiable to change one's values and belief system towards work with a newfound opportunity?’  I guess not! We must be proud of our lineage, especially in work ethics and loyalty. India Incorporated has trusted most the "implicit factors and work culture" rather than the contractual engagement.

Further, the professionals were keen to give more than what is committed in a letter. Indians never took pride in a strict 40 hours of the work week. They derived satisfaction in overstepping to give more and seeing the firm grow or stay competitive than the individual choices cemented by the contracts.

The permissive knowledge economy helped the new generation to taste a new life of unrestricted work based in the absence of deterrence-based engagement. There were newfound opportunities, creating a separate class within and outside. One type felt fulfilled and enjoyed the work-life balance brought in by the work-from-home (WFH) schema. But we are sure there is another set of

professionals capable of delivering more but find restricted opportunities in the absence of the face-to-face collaborative work that the office premises bring in. Perhaps the current position probably does not give them a chance.

Working from home reduces the time and fatigue associated with work travel. This saving ups the supply-side person-hours. We believe that it is these surplus hours in hand and the perceived need for generating more money which we have written above, that propels people towards moonlighting. This capacity tempts intermediaries to capitalize on them by hiring them for their benefit and growth. The key question here is if this is a sustainable model? Is moonlighting an opportune tactic deployed by resource seekers and its providers? We have seen some core engineering industries trying out multi-tasking for their employees and finding declining product quality, misplaced employee priorities, and loss of personal skills (Jack of all trades but master of none!). We strongly believe that employee burnout will happen to the detriment of the individual and the organization that pays the individual sooner than later. Where the organization's service rules prohibit moonlighting expressly, and the individual indulges in moonlighting, they will be under the mental stress of being found out.

One argument that is commonly put up now is that moonlighting helps in entrepreneurship. This can be a specious argument. If 100 employees work in an IT company, can it be generalized that all the hundred are endowed with the entrepreneurial spirit? Will the ecosystem support all the hundred? From my experience, I find that persons who work with dedication and commitment in an organization soaked, absorbed, and built up a knowledge bank of skills driven by their entrepreneurial spirit become successful entrepreneurs. They would have changed jobs, but certainly, they have not moonlighted. We can confidently say that their commitment to their work and loyalty has transformed them.

Then there is the issue of customer confidentiality. Indeed a customer is in no wrong expecting the service provider to ensure that the team they allot for the project works exclusively for them and not for their competitors. Humans cannot work in water-tight compartments. What is gained as experience in one activity will be the base for another. Imagine an IT company taking up a confidential defense job for the government. Can the government tolerate the person moonlighting?

Recent polls have shown that many people want WFH and are unwilling to come to the office or prefer to switch jobs to ensure their WFH; is this a feasible solution? Perhaps the current dearth of skilled people gives them a seller's market. The entry barriers to becoming an IT professional are not high, which will slowly but surely lead to a situation of oversupply eventually. The environment, too, will not remain stable for sustained periods. The straws in the wind now show the direction of declining hires. With restricted job openings, the balance of power is likely to shift towards employers.

We also see moonlighting as a risk to be addressed at the board level. This is because the full-time contract in India does not allow someone to engage with the competition or gain employment unless otherwise, it is an honorarium or the terms of engagement to have permitted the same. The latter is very limited in India. The risk to the board is compounded when a client comes with a complaint of duplication of resources and breaking of confidentially.

It will have been good if the temporary resource recruiters validate whether the resources are in full employment with any other company, especially with competitors in the same space and geography. The parent firms with such professionals may have to learn two important things. What would appropriate employee engagement towards ethical practices during the work-from-home tactic (which is continuing partially)? HR practices need to reform to attenuate moonlighting. Reasonable compensation and lifetime employment (up to the retirement age, of course) through reskilling/upskilling will instil employee confidence and loyalty. If floated by the government, a scheme for unemployment insurance can help employees tide over the periods of unemployment until they regain employment. Alternatively, HR hires professionals on a contract basis – either on a fixed tenure basis or a fixed project basis. While this can be advantageous to the firm, in the long run, the professionals can lose out by missing some of the rewards and benefits associated with permanent full-time employment.


[1] Park Jin (1992) “Motives for Moonlighting and Its Policy Implications (Written in Korean),” KDI Journal of Economic Policy. Korea Development Institute, 14(4), pp. 107–121. doi: 10.23895/KDIJEP.1992.14.4.107.

About the Author(s)

Prof. N Chandrasekaran, Professor, IFMR Graduate School of Business, Krea University & Sri. Cyril Fernandez, Retired. General Manager, BHEL.

Add a comment & Rating

View Comments

  • Nice article NC . Actually we all worked for a company more than 60 to 70 hours without demanding more. Though we have different skill. It may not suit to indian culture. I remember medical rep do this kind. Where they have been fired.
  • Nice article NC . Actually we all worked for a company more than 60 to 70 hours without demanding more. Though we have different skill. It may not suit to indian culture. I remember medical rep do this kind. Where they have been fired.