After-work-hour gigs is a new white-collar reality
Food ordering and delivery platform Swiggy has broken new ground in human resource (HR) practices by introducing a “moonlighting policy” that allows its full-time employees to take up jobs after work hours subject to certain guidelines and restrictions. The chief of these is that the after-work-hours gig cannot have a conflict of interest with the employee’s full-time job. Nor can it impact productivity. The idea reflects a practical recognition of the changing nature of white-collar jobs, especially in the fluid IT and e-commerce industries, where asymmetric work hours, such as for those working in global back-offices or engineers, leave employees with large stacks of free time on their hands. This is also true for those who work fixed hours or shifts. At the same time, corporations, now permanently in cost-saving mode, have been increasingly outsourcing large amounts of white-collar work as part-time gigs. The combination of white-collar employees with time to spare or in need of extra income, and corporations increasingly creating space for gig workers has inevitably resulted in an expansion of moonlighting that is rarely acknowledged.
No doubt, two years of the pandemic, which enhanced the benefits of work from home (WFH) — now termed work from anywhere — for employer and employee, has broadened and deepened proclivities for moonlighting. In regularising the practice by requiring self-declaration and setting out its boundaries, Swiggy has sensibly sought to establish a degree of control; the policy will give it better visibility of its full-time employees’ off-duty work and ensure better protection for proprietary information and practices. To be sure, the policy cannot be watertight since every organisation in the world has its complement of dishonourable employees who will leak corporate secrets, whether through part-time gigs or otherwise. It is well known, for instance, that employees have found creative workarounds against hiring freezes among competitors or extended notice periods and “gardening leave”. But an official policy such as this raises the stakes for employees who choose not to declare their other jobs by introducing some level of formality into a hitherto nudge-and-wink regime.
It is no surprise that Swiggy’s announcement has been met with reservation rather than a rush to emulation by the HR community. For one, there’s the question of how corporations will define conflict of interest. At the most basic level that entails not working part-time for a direct competitor. But what if an IT engineer works with a start-up in, say, 5G technology? Or if a marketing executive in a fast-moving consumer goods company works as a consultant to a supply-chain specialist? And most of all, the possibility of the part-time job morphing into a full-time business for an employee remains a permanent risk — the start-up world is riddled with people who leverage contacts and information as full-time employees in corporations. For another, an “official moonlighting” policy raises the responsibility of line managers and HR departments exponentially to ensure productivity, pressures that they already feel with the expansion of WFH mandates. The challenge is likely in ensuring the line between acceptance and indulgence. How can managers ensure that employees aren’t skiving off their permanent jobs for their officially declared gig work? These are certainly issues that Swiggy will have to address as it implements the policy. It may take time to gain traction elsewhere but it has certainly offered organisations a point to ponder.