The ongoing debate in the tech industry around ‘moonlighting’ or the taking up of side projects outside regular hours of work sparked off by Wipro Chairman Rishad Premji’s tweet on how it amounts to cheating is posing a lot of questions for the $130-billion-dollar-plus Indian IT industry.
The remote work culture during the two years of the pandemic enabled many employees to pursue other side projects easily. A survey by Kotak Institutional Equities revealed that 65 per cent of IT/ITeS respondents were pursuing part-time opportunities. But now that several firms, including IT companies, rolling back WFH, the debate has gained significance.
This comes on the back of IT companies battling record high attrition levels as they find it hard to attract and retain talent in an era where skilled employees are in high demand and the smallest difference of a perk can make an employee stay or leave.
Utthunga, a Bengaluru-based IT firm which does not allow moonlighting, says that their employment contract has a non-solicitation clause which prevents employees from directly or indirectly influencing any customer or affiliate of the firm, and also engaging in a manner that causes material disadvantage to the company. “This helps us prevent our employees from working for or sharing sensitive information with our competitors and customers for the duration of their employment here and for a period of two years after,” the firm’s HR Manager Rekha KK told Business Today.
Co-founder of Artha School of Entrepreneurship and former big basket HR head, TN Hari, argues in a post on LinkedIn that IT Services companies in India have long been used to billing their clients for the ‘time’ spent by employees on their accounts. “‘Time and materials’ contracts have been their Holy Grail. These contracts are very difficult to monitor or enforce in true spirit and can be misused by service providers. It has not been uncommon for services companies to bill their employees to multiple clients or use part of their time on activities unrelated to their clients’ interests. Because of rampant misuse, the underlying relationship is based on distrust, and clients have gone to extraordinary lengths to create mechanisms that prevent abuse.”
So, he questions how it can be fair for a service provider like Wipro to prevent that employee from doing what she wishes to do beyond the eight hours when a client pays the services provider for eight hours of an employee’s time.
On the other end of the spectrum is food ordering and delivery platform Swiggy which recently announced that it will allow its employees to take up gigs or projects outside of their regular employment at the company.
In a blog post on August 3, Yamini Koganti an HR professional who helped develop the policy at Swiggy, said: “The projects have been divided into two buckets A & B. List A projects are highly-sensitive, leveraging professional know-how. List B are projects that fall under the space of interests and hobbies, that are non-professional in nature.” The employee will have to declare a few necessary details so that the team can greenlight the project,” she had said.
And some IT industry stalwarts also see benefits in it. Tech Mahindra’s MD & CEO CP Gurnani said at the Business Today India@100 Economy Summit in New Delhi on Friday that the issue was not rampant and that the company will probably make a policy around this. "Frankly, I am going to make it a policy that if you want to do it (moonlighting), be open about it, share.”
And smaller IT firms like Utthunga are waiting to pick up the signals of how the IT bellwethers are addressing ‘moonlighting’ in a post-WFH but flexibility-centric world of work to make an informed decision for themselves. “If this were to become a norm for the industry, then there would need to be strict policies in place to prevent conflict of interest, loss of productivity and the disclosure of sensitive or exclusive information,” Rekha KK told Business Today.
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