Moonlighting: Tackling the Second Job Taboo — Embracing Gig Workers

Arvind Mehrotra

Job insecurity and the need to find newer, better opportunities are among the grim realities we saw in 2020–2021. Whether out of compulsion or driven by the undeniable boost in the gig economy, the practice of moonlighting or holding down second jobs is on the rise. Remote work frees employees from being physically present in office premises for a stipulated number of hours every day. Theoretically, a bit of multi-tasking and astute time management would allow talented professionals to distribute their labour across two or more employers evenly.

According to research, 68% of remote workers are open to taking on freelance work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with 35% saying they now have more time on their hands to take on a side hustle. Employers need to have open conversations around moonlighting and lay down clear policies regulating the practice.

Why Moonlighting Could Now Become the Rule, Not the Exception

There are several reasons why moonlighting is now much more than holding down two low-skilled jobs in the blue-collar sector to make ends meet. It is clear that remote work inevitably shaves off a considerable portion of unproductive hours, such as commutes, process-oriented meetings, admin activities, etc. Human beings have the potential to create more significant value generation. Many will turn to additional opportunities outside of their primary jobs — often in a vocation hitherto unexplored, such as the fine arts or culinary sciences.

Second, many turn to second jobs to provide a cushion of sorts, offsetting any job insecurity risks in their current employment. In India, for example, it is estimated that a whopping 136 million jobs will be at risk after the pandemic, and moonlighting offers an anticipatory measure to tackle this challenge.Finally — and this is probably the most common — moonlighting allows employees to augment their revenue streams, filling the gaps left behind due to low market demand, pay cuts, and freezes on salary hikes. But whatever the reason, it is now clear that the gig economy in this form is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future), and employers need to recognize and manage its impacts.

Risks to Business Arising From Moonlighting Practices Among Employees

When managed effectively, moonlighting can prove to enrich both the employee and the employer. Not only do employees gain from extra revenues and work fulfilment, but this is likely to positively influence their sense of security, confidence, and value generation during tough times, which spills over to their productivity at their primary job.

However, alongside this, there are three risk factors to remember:

1. Safety risks and employee wellbeing ownership

In the US (and elsewhere), there are stringent laws mandating employer responsibility for employees’ safety at work. If an employee is regularly moonlighting, possibly exposing themselves to unsafe conditions or excessive work hours, then the ownership of their wellbeing becomes a grey area. The primary employer could be held responsible for failing to ensure the worker’s physical and mental wellbeing.

2. Productivity impact and interruption in primary work efforts

First, the two things that might happen — first, holding down two modes of employment become so strenuous that the employee cannot sustain their necessary, normal productivity levels. Or, the second moonlighting schedule could conflict with the employee’s regular workflow, necessitating a compromise. Reorganizing meetings, delaying tasks, and missing deadlines are signs of this form of risk.

3. Conflict of interest and security risk

You may face the most pernicious risk with moonlighting employees, particularly at the highly skilled white-collar level. When employees privy to sensitive information, intellectual property, and other confidential “trade secrets” are exposed to the open market in an unregulated manner, there is a risk of data exposure. At a fundamental level, the employee could be moonlighting for a competitor, thereby diluting the unique value proposition they bring for your company.

All of these risk factors boil down to a singular bottom line — if second jobs treated as a taboo and moonlighting goes unmanaged, it will be impossible to mitigate the associated risks.

Moonlighting Benefits and the Way Forward

Right now, nearly every country has faced some degree of market slowdown due to the pandemic, which has trickled down to impact frontline employment and labour demand. In Japan, for example, idle workers have started to engage in moonlighting, going against the country’s cultural grain of utmost loyalty and quasi-paternalistic employment relationships. The individuals in their 50s or 60s use moonlighting to transition into a second career instead of accepting forced retirement. In other words, the reasons for taking on a second job are many and varied and benefit employees in an unprecedented range of ways.

In 2021, employers must manage — not restrict or curtail — moonlighting practices through transparent, conscious policy-making. The first step is to define the ambit of second jobs, ensuring there is no conflict of interest or security risk. Next, companies have to invest in mental wellbeing and continuous support for their workers so that they are free to be as productive as they see fit without impacting their business outcomes.

To know more or continue this conversation, please email me at <[email protected]>.