A case for side hustle

Technology behemoths have been cajoling and in worst cases, threatening their employees to get back to office in person since the waning of the COVID crisis.
Representative Image
Representative Image

The corporate phenomenon of moonlighting or the practice of taking up another job or assignment while in regular employment was thrown into the limelight after IT an major sacked as many as 300 of its employees last month for two timing the company with rival firms. Companies soon began informing its staffers against moonlighting with a warning that dual employment could lead to termination of employment.

From industry veterans to legal experts to common cubicle dwellers, everyone seems to have an opinion on the practice. It’s telling considering how the industry body Nasscom has been vocal about reimagining the way the sector works. The pandemic has altered the rules of working in unexpected ways. Technology behemoths have been cajoling and in worst cases, threatening their employees to get back to office in person since the waning of the COVID crisis. Since the workforce has gotten used to the idea of work from home, some employers continue the option, to address immediate attrition concerns.

On the plus side, a side hustle with no conflict of interest allows people to develop new skills, pick up a new competency and even explore new avenues for professional growth. On the flip side for employers, there is the clear question of conflict of interest when an employee is working part time for a competitor as well. Concerns involving intellectual property as well as trade secrets and such elements come to the fore. And the divided attention span might reflect in poor performance in one or both job fronts. Above all, multiple jobs come with the overheads of lesser time for personal growth and recreation, which would inadvertently hurt the worker’s morale.

If one were to look at the legal implications, though the Indian Factories act restricts double employment, it leaves the IT industry out of its ambit. According to the Tamil Nadu Shops and Establishments Act, 1947, there is no provision dealing with dual employment. However, new-age companies in the gig economy like food and delivery aggregators are working hard to formalise the act of moonlighting.

It is worth recalling that several IT majors have deferred, postponed or reduced the variable payout to employees for the Q1 of the financial year 2023 due to lower margins. Stakeholders opine that the IT industry has been exploiting freshers by rewarding the top brass with exorbitant pay-cheques and ignoring juniors, a dangerous precedent on all counts. This is reflected in the growing disparity in salaries between the top management and workers at the bottom of the pyramid.

Here’s the deal. In a few years from now, employers are going to meet potential employees whose ideal job descriptions would include clauses to both telecommute as well as moonlight. Irrefutable as it might be, this is the direction in which the job scenario of the future is set to evolve.

Now that the conversation is out in the open, it would do India Inc a whole lot of good to create policy frameworks that factor in moonlighting. For industries that pride themselves in being proficient in multitasking, the biggest googly seems to have been thrown by the employees themselves who are redefining the phrase in all new ways.

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