Navigating The New World Of Work: All You Need To Know About Moonlighting


The pandemic created new ways to work and spread your wings at work. Our perceptions of work have changed for good, particularly in the tech industry. Pari Natarajan, CEO of Zinnov, points out what’s next for the hot-topic trend of moonlighting.

“Hustle beats talent when talent doesn’t hustle.” – Ross Simmonds

In a post-pandemic reality, will work-life balance prevail, or will the need to experience more, earn more and do more lead to a hustle culture? Moonlighting is the latest trend getting considerable airtime and column inches, given the possible ramifications, it will have on industries, economies, and the talent fabric of businesses. Moonlighting means having a bolt-on job in addition to a full-time role and has given rise to questions on IP and ethicality, as well as productivity and freedom of choice for employees. The new-age talent will probably use moonlighting as a bridge strategy, exploring if they have the chops to participate in the gig workforce with a secure job. 

Moonlighting Ethics and Equity

As moonlighting picks up pace, its many shades of grey also unfold. That is why the debates in favor of and against it have reached a fever pitch. While instances of data security breaches, sharing of protected IP, or working for a direct competitor are unequivocally unethical, the impact of employees moonlighting to diversify skills, find purpose, create additional sources of income and gain heterogeneity of network needs to be explored. 

Another side of this raging debate is the disparity between the par-for-the-course perception of CEOs running multiple companies versus the average employee moonlighting. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Jack Dorsey are cases in point. Many Fortune 500 CEOs also sit on the boards of other companies and non-profits and invest in startups and external entities. In the last year, the CEO pay has risen 11%Opens a new window , 399 times that of typical employees’, further widening the pay gap. A majority of this is based on stock compensation. 

Elon Musk’s compensation plan, including stock-based benefits from Tesla alone, stands at a staggering USD 56 billion, making it one of the largest ever on Earth. This idea ties the CEO’s compensation to the company’s performance. But the salary bands for technology professionals are based on their job titles and experience levels, not on their skills or the outcomes they deliver. Thus, limiting their wealth potential. This is true even in the case of a 10x engineer who is ten times more talented and productive than an average software developer, but their compensation is still limited by the band they fit into. 

The question then becomes, why are there different lenses for CEOs and employees? If the companies don’t have a problem with their senior executives contributing to endeavors outside of work, the same should apply to employees too. Companies cannot afford to be protectionist as far as their employees’ skills are concerned. 

See More: How to Avoid Elon Musk’s Social Media Blunders

Decoding the Moonlighter’s Mindset

Moonlighting must be looked at in collaboration. The likelihood of employees moonlighting depends on various factors such as their life stage, current work complexity, ability to decouple workstreams, personality types, and mindset. 

Let’s take the example of an ambitious employee with an average skillset. While they may desire to achieve more, their limited capabilities won’t allow them to grow within the organization. But with moonlighting, they can pursue external opportunities. At the same time, a content employee who is smart and skilled will seek work-life balance and will be less likely to take on a secondary job.  

A Gig Reality

Given the stressors of the last couple of years, there is a strong employee disconnect between their work and their organization. That’s where moonlighting can help realign their thinking and bring in diverse thoughts and ideas. It provides them the psychological safety net of having a full-time job with guaranteed pay while giving them room to experiment. It helps erase the limitations of employees’ wealth potential through alternate sources of income – a small but necessary step. It also enables the possibility of having a portfolio career (a variety of roles combining paid and voluntary opportunities), allowing them to pursue areas of passion/interest beyond their primary jobs. 

One of the hurdles for moonlighting is the widespread discoverability of service providers and service seekers. Though platforms such as TaskRabbit and Fiverr have existed for a while for smaller, creative gigs, higher order and value work with tasks and sub-tasks defined are yet to become commonplace. That’s where platforms such as Turing, Revelo, and will enable discoverability.

As discoverability eases, these platforms will enable the intuitive matching of service seekers and providers. It will eliminate the friction in the current systems to provide access to a steady stream of gigs. This will enable employees to quit their primary jobs and take on more fluid, open-ended jobs that compensate them for their skills and not their job roles or experience levels. This construct will empower them to be more entrepreneurial, owners of their own time, and predetermine their gigs, which they commit to deliver on time. 

The transition into a true gig economy will bring in more efficient structures. IT companies such as Virtusa, TCS, and Tech Mahindra have long been working with gig workers, and some even have dedicated platforms to engage with them regularly. The ecosystem’s natural progression will call for creating dedicated HR roles such as Gig Economy Strategist and Freelance Services Program Manager. Hence, companies cannot remain on the sidelines or take a myopic stance on moonlighting. 

What’s Next for Moonlighting?

Today, there are instances of employees automating repetitive tasks or finding hacks to create extra time and bandwidth, all without compromising the quality of their work. Hence, the onus is on the employers to move away from the traditional constructs of paying for employees’ time on a per-hour or a per-month basis but compensate them for their skills and performance. Instead, they should have better-defined deliverables of a certain quality and at an average time. Clear definitions around IP ownership, work deliverable, conflicts of interest situations, confidentiality, and exclusivity must become the norm. They will determine the next logical step in the evolution – a gig economy. Transparency and clearly defined governance around moonlighting will not only ease this transition but also ensure that the same rules apply to all employees, whether the CEO or software engineer.

Have you used moonlighting as a bridge strategy for new-age talent? Share with us on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window .