Article: Love it or loathe it: Moonlighting is an open secret and here to stay

Employee Engagement

Love it or loathe it: Moonlighting is an open secret and here to stay

When employees moonlight, it’s the responsibility of the organisation to perhaps understand what makes them moonlight and address the issue not the symptom.
Love it or loathe it: Moonlighting is an open secret and here to stay

At 6pm, Shyam walked in a great hurry and placed a call to the Senior Creative Director.

“I’m in. Let me know when we can meet for the briefing.”

An illustrator and a master in his trade, he finished working for one of the top five advertising agencies during the day. Also after work, he was supposed to do the work for three other agencies where the illustrator worked as a freelancer on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

On being asked about the reason why he didn’t take up commitments on Mondays and Fridays, he said those were the busiest days at his day agency.

Like Shyam, there were many others, who visited the mid-size agency, I worked with. We had a Hindi copyrighter, who worked in one of the largest banks in the country. There was another brand strategist, who worked for a renowned FMCG organisation.

Moonlighters are a part of the advertising industry from time immemorial. We even had a part-time peon, who worked in the Municipal corporation of the city.

I remember a sales head in the construction business, who worked as a part-time actor, and another banker, who ran a start-up toiletry company. In the early days, people moonlighted mainly to support their families and follow their passion for working in diverse industries.

Is anything different now?

Reminds of a quote from the Hollywood movie, Taxi Driver.

Personnel Officer asks, the taxi driver, “So, what is it? Do you need a second job? Are you moonlighting?”

Travis Bickle responds, “ I…I just want to work long hours. What's moonlighting?”

Well, as you can see employees moonlight for varied reasons.

  1. Some are looking to achieve their financial goals in the wake of the rising inflation - to make ends meet, pay off debts, and save money for a home or a trip.
  2. Some are looking at second jobs as a fallback thinking should something happen to their main job, especially in the case of start-ups.
  3. Some are keen to open doors into a different industry to learn something new perhaps for a future entrepreneurial venture.
  4. Some do it just to meet new people or expand their social circles.
  5. Lack of recognition and motivation in the main job is also a strong reason to moonlight
  6. Some have enough spare time that needs constructive utilisation.

Moonlighting has always been the organisation’s bane. The main reason for the insecurity was the misuse or abuse of trade secrets. It was one of the reasons for companies I worked for a decade ago, where they wouldn’t allow senior leaders to take home their laptops! And in another promoter-led organisation, the promoter blatantly asked, ‘They are in my employment and I own them. Why should I allow them to work elsewhere?’ Suffice it to say, the attrition rate was high in his company.

However, the other reasons that are not viewed positively by employers are fatigue, short attention spans, and easy distraction, and commuting -all of which can have adverse effects on an employee's performance.

When employees moonlight, it’s the responsibility of the organisation to perhaps understand what makes them moonlight and address the issue, not the symptom. Times are changing. Organisations may need to move ahead and keep pace with the time without a tyrannical or subservient approach.

Transparency and open communication harbour trust, the vital ingredients for stronger relationships and growth. Moonlighting has adverse impacts on relations between employees and their managers because of unmatched expectations. In an environment that honours transparency, understanding the trigger is critical.

Employers can address moonlighting in multiple ways.

  1. Seek to understand the gap moonlighting is fulfilling. What needs are moonlighting fulfilling? Need for money, career goal, learning, recognition, or success?
  2. Enable a work culture of trust, transparency, and accountability.
    Set the expectations for the full-time or primary job with KPIs and OKRs.
  3. Support employees with compensation and benefits.
    Work on compensation that is in sync with the level of employee contribution to discourage moonlighting as an option.
  4. Set up a clear conflict of interest policy.
    This will emphasise not working for competitors at the same time.
  5. Roll out consent for additional employment policy across the board.
    Add a clause that states that an employee requires prior approval for any other employment apart from their primary job.

For employees, who are keen to moonlight for any of the reasons mentioned above, it makes sense. At the same time, it is understandable and may not be objectionable to the employer if you moonlight in an unrelated field and keep the organisation in the loop on the reason for moonlighting.

Perhaps the organisation may pay heed and surprise you with something more than you expect.

Employees are also human beings, who have set goals and choosing options to earn extra bucks helps them meet financial targets. If it is not hampering you in any way, then leave it.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #GuestArticle, #Jobs

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