Home / Opinion / Columns /  The right corporate culture would end moonlighting

Each crisis not only brings out the best or worst in people and organizations, but also exposes their well-hidden secrets. Unprecedented layoffs, the great resignation, quiet quitting, and now moonlighting. These phenomena highlight concerns that aren’t new but are rooted in systemic flaws that the pandemic made evident.

What makes moonlighting unacceptable: Moonlighting, as a concept, is age-old. In countries like the US, it is close to the norm. Many people work multiple gigs to make ends meet. Multiple streams of income do make sense in such situations. But when it comes to professionals who have access to sensitive data such as customer information and trade secrets of their employers or are in possession of the company’s intellectual property, moonlighting poses a direct risk to the organization. It is also a breach of trust and a violation of rights, such as those of customers. In sectors such as fintech and banking, moonlighting shouldn’t be acceptable due to the sheer magnitude of risk it poses.

From hardware such as computers to our brains, we collect an unmeasurable amount of information every single day. While we work, we use these learnings and apply this knowledge for positive outcomes. There is no guarantee that a person who is moonlighting is not using acquired proprietary knowledge or software for one’s benefit. While laptops can be monitored, all technology is susceptible to human intent.

Moreover, moonlighting, after someone has explicitly agreed to a non-compete and single employment clause while joining a company, raises questions about a person’s integrity and violates the implicit bond of trust shared between an employee and the employer. In an age where data and information rule the world, this violation of confidentiality and trust can lead to serious consequences and even legal ramifications.

Employee versus consultant: The dialogue around moonlighting cannot exclude the segment of professionals who prefer to work on short-term projects while being connected to multiple organizations. One might ask why it is acceptable for these individuals to work with multiple organizations while employees can’t do the same. The answer to that is simple: exposure. Consultants, gig workers, freelancers, etc, have limited exposure to an organization’s trade secrets. Combined with a non-disclosure agreement, there is a fair amount of confidentiality and protection built in. Control over information, data and intellectual property lie with you as an organization. Above all, there is transparency, defined expectations and specified goals. An employee and a freelancer are not the same.

Time for a pause: While the debate rages on, it might be beneficial to pause and ask a few questions. Why are employees actually accepting two different professional responsibilities? Are the first organization’s pay and benefits lacking? Are there enough opportunities to grow and learn within the organization? Is job satisfaction a concern? Does the organization lag on employee engagement? There has been a consistent and strong focus on work culture and work-life balance since the pandemic began. If employees are seeking additional work while organizations facilitate initiatives to promote a better work-life balance, there must be a crack in the foundation.

Finding a solution: While some may be tempted to take drastic steps, it is important to dig deep and figure out why your employees are so unsatisfied that they are opting to occupy each moment of their free time doing even more work. The negative impact on productivity and morale isn’t something that escapes them either. Then why are these employees leading themselves to burnout?

Here’s where an organization’s culture comes into play. In addition to human resource partners, every manager and every leader must be equipped to understand the struggles of their teammates. An employee may need an additional source of income due to an emergency, or may desire a move into a more challenging role, or want to learn something new. Many such scenarios lead employees to take up a second gig.

While organizations realigned their focus to the well-being of their employees when the pandemic was at its peak, it is essential to sustain this focus. Providing employees financial options to take care of themselves and their families during medical crises; offering work flexibility to those who are also primary caregivers to children or the elderly; establishing a support system of mental health professionals along with empathetic managers who are willing to understand and accommodate an employee’s needs during a tough time. All of this is no longer optional but elementary.

This is key to create a culture in which issues such as moonlighting can be addressed. The right culture is the only solution to this perennial problem. Moonlighting not only affects the organization adversely, but also has a negative impact on employees. Building an organization in which employees have sufficient support and options to tackle any problem in their lives is the starting point. A mutual sense of belonging, loyalty and trust will follow.

Kishore Poduri is country head, human resources, DBS Bank India

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