moonlighting: is moonlight a plague or okay?  Startups are divided in their opinions

moonlighting: is moonlight a plague or okay? Startups are divided in their opinions

The moonlighting debate, which recently drew strong reactions from some of India’s top IT chiefs, has spilled over into the start-up sector, which is clearly divided on the issue.

When it comes to employees taking on a side job, the general sentiment is to err on the side of caution, ET found from conversations with several startup bosses at upGrad, Eruditus, Nykaa, NoBroker, Scaler, BankBazaar, HomeLane and CashKaro.

While some said their organizations were okay with what employees did on their own time as long as there was transparency and no conflict of interest, some said they would consider it on a case-by-case basis. Others spoke out against moonlighting, saying it would dilute employee contributions.

None of the companies ET spoke to are yet considering a formal policy on moonlighting, a trend that has intensified among white-collar employees, particularly in the IT/tech sector, amid the Covid-19 pandemic and work from home (WFH).

“Moonlighting can be a great way to improve skills that you don’t have time to practice during your full-time job,” said Swati Bhargava, co-founder of CashKaro and EarnKaro.

She said her companies have no problem with employees working second jobs, as long as it doesn’t compromise their commitment to the job. “But it has to be monitored on a case-by-case basis,” Bhargava said. “Also, for older people, I don’t think it’s practical because of the nature of their role and responsibility.”

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At the other end of the spectrum, Amit Agarwal, CEO of NoBroker, said that he is personally against the concept. “Startups are about innovating, generating ideas and solving customer problems around the clock,” he said. “That plus the time required for rejuvenation leaves very little mental bandwidth for further work.”

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Overall, though, experts said startups appear to be ahead of the curve and more flexible than their IT peers when it comes to moonlighting.

“Start-ups tend to imagine the future better than big companies and can spot trends and patterns much better. That is precisely why they are able to successfully disrupt and outperform larger companies,” said angel investor TN Hari, co-founder of the Artha School of Entrepreneurship.

“They understand that allowing employees to do whatever they want in their spare time (except to work for a direct competitor) is the future and they are better off embracing the trend than fighting it,” he said.

Sandeep Murthy, a partner at venture capital fund Lightbox Ventures, said skilled, creative people join startups to pursue a vision, make a difference and redefine an industry. “If you can’t make it motivating enough or incentivize them enough to stay engaged, you can’t expect them to sit around and wait and do nothing in their spare time,” he added.

Sriram Vaidhyanathan, HR Director what type of contract the employee has, if it is a conflict of interest, and if you have disclosed the nature of the work. We also check the commercial interest involved.”

Moonlighting can be more of a challenge for larger companies because they typically have signed contracts with end customers, he said. “But in the startup ecosystem for small and medium-sized businesses, it’s something that can work across the board,” Vaidhyanathan added.

Abhimanyu Saxena, co-founder of InterviewBit and Scaler, said employees should be free to do what they want outside of work hours, as long as there is no conflict of interest. “Companies that are flexible will attract more talent than those that are rigid,” he said.

Moonlighting made headlines in recent weeks after Swiggy released a policy allowing its employees to moonlight, subject to internal approvals. Since then, some IT careers, including Wipro, Infosys and IBM, have spoken out against the practice. However, some like Tech Mahindra CEO CP Gurnani said his company could even create a policy so employees can be open about it.

everything is not comfortable

While Nykaa CEO Falguni Nayar said she is more of a traditionalist and doesn’t believe in side hustle without the company’s knowledge, Ashwin Damera, CEO of Eruditus, said moonlighting is unethical unless the person reports it to the employer and approves it.

upGrad also does not encourage moonlighting. “Education is a serious business and such practices (moonlighting) could divert our employees from their core vision… and also negatively affect our students,” said UpGrad co-founder Mayank Kumar.

Similarly, Srikanth Iyer, co-founder of HomeLane, said: “When employees have a second job, their contribution is diluted, if not in the short term, then definitely in the long term.”

NoBroker’s Agarwal said: “The reason we give generous ESOPs at NoBroker is that we view our colleagues as owners, and this requires their dedicated approach. The risk of burnout and distraction (from moonlighting) is too great when a startup is in the process of experimenting and scaling.”

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