Home / Companies / News /  IT firms turn up the heat on moonlighters

MUMBAI : India’s top software services companies are shining some unwelcome scrutiny on employees, worried that some of them may be taking up side hustles without company approval.

While moonlighting has existed in the IT sector for a long time, the problem has become acute in the pandemic era as many employees work remotely, freeing them from constant monitoring, experts said.

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The popularity of freelancing websites such as Fiverr and Freelancer is also fuelling the moonlighting trend, with many employees taking up gig work during the pandemic to supplement their incomes after pay cuts.

With living costs surging, many see it as necessary to cover costs and protect themselves against possible layoffs.

IT firms, however, are worried that the trend will affect productivity, create conflicts of interest and even cause data breaches. As a result, many are clamping down on such activities.

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For instance, Blackstone Group-controlled tech firm Mphasis, which employs more than 36,000 people, said it is keeping a hawk-eye on employees to deter offenders. For starters, Mphasis has begun comparing provident fund data of its staff to ascertain additional sources of income, if any. “We have started checking the provident fund. We are checking, and if we find something, we question the employees," said Srikanth Karra, chief human resources officer, Mphasis.

The company has also identified high-risk profiles within its workforce and has held internal discussions to curb moonlighting. “Earlier, it was never really taken so seriously, but now since we started hearing about it, we are looking at new employees," Karra said.

Significantly, in many instances, it is the middle management with an average experience of between three and six years which was found to be involved. “It is the middle management layer, those with 3-6 years of work experience. This is a critical period. They are 26-27 years of age, just married, etc., moving towards project leaders, project managers—the senior project layer," Karra added further.

Mumbai-headquartered IDfy, which provides identity verification services to clients to check instances of fraud, said a growing number of IT firms are seeking help to detect moonlighting. “In the last two months, 40-50% of our IT clients want to know how to check if employees are moonlighting. This includes checking data from employee’s provident fund office to see if there are credits from any other firm," said Anupam Mukerji, vice-president-marketing for IDfy.

About a week ago, Wipro’s executive chairman, Rishad Premji, labelled the moonlighting trend as “cheating", sparking a debate and bringing the long-festering issue into the limelight. He tweeted: “There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating—plain and simple".

At an industry event held last Friday, N. Ganapathy Subramaniam, chief operating officer of Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, said employees need to be on the ethical side and moonlighting will not work out in the long run. “Employers need to inculcate ethics and being right... If you make something like this for short-term gains, in the long-term, you will lose out—that kind of a message has to go to the employees," Subramaniam said.

However, Tech Mahindra managing director and chief executive C.P. Gurnani said at the same event that he would “probably make it a policy", but employees have to be open about it. “Most of us (IT firms) have efficiency and productivity targets, and they are measurable, thanks to all automation and AI," said Gurnani at the same event. “If someone meets the productivity and efficiency norms, and he wants to make an extra buck, as long as he is not committing fraud, and he is not doing something that is against the values and ethics of the firm, I have no problem."

Both TCS and Tech Mahindra did not respond to Mint’s queries on the same.

According to Kamal Karanth, co-founder of Xpheno, a staffing solutions firm, often it is the specialists skilled in the latest technology who are in demand for moonlighting projects. “The workforce on the bench or between projects are not in demand. Those who are moving from one project to another whose skill sets are in need. So there is a higher chance of them moonlighting," Karanth said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Devina Sengupta

Devina Sengupta reports on the shifts in India Inc’s workplaces, HR policies and writes about the developments at India’s biggest conglomerates. Her stories over the last decade have been picked up and followed by Indian and international news outlets. She joined Mint in 2022 and previously worked with The Economic Times and DNA-Money.
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