The recent decision by Wipro to sack 300 employees, who were said to be moonlighting, has thrown spotlight on an issue, which has been simmering for long. Moonlighting refers to the practice of taking up an additional job, even when employed or contracted to a different organisation.

The industry is right in insisting that moonlighting is both unethical and illegal apart from concerns surrounding IP, misuse of software and hardware assets.

This practice though is unlikely to reduce, or disappear if corrective steps are not taken.

It has been an open-secret that moonlighting has existed under a nudge-nudge, wink atmosphere, especially in the Indian IT industry.

However, there are a few reasons why it has gained traction in the recent past. The Covid pandemic disaggregated a centralised command structure that most IT companies used to run their organisations. With employees no longer obliged to turn up at tech parks — usually after wading through hours of urban traffic — for the obligatory nine and half hours a day, five days a week schedule, it showed the weakness in the current organisation and execution model.

Also, the pandemic led to a huge demand for digitalisation as enterprises — big and small — rushed to have an online presence, operations and scale, as never before, as Covid restricted vast parts of the world from physical movement.

While this demand uptick was a blessing for IT companies in general and especially to value providers of Indian IT industry, it also meant that there was a sudden spurt in demand for trained professionals.

The wage factor

Irrespective of the arguments to the contrary, a large chunk of Indian IT’s competitiveness comes from the wage arbitrage between the largely Western markets they serve and the salaries they paid to IT professionals in the country. Entry-level salaries in the industry have stagnated for nearly a decade and have not even kept pace with inflation, a fact that senior industry leaders now acknowledge as a gross injustice.

Even for the mid-level employees — who constitute the bulk of the 5 million people employed in the Indian IT-ITeS sector — wage hikes have been modest during this period. The pandemic-induced demand spurt meant that employees were suddenly wooed by competing enterprises looking to execute the windfall orders they had obtained. This, in turn, led to a massive spike in attrition with even very large established brand names seeing a 30 per cent plus turnover in their workforce. Most IT sector employees had multiple offers over the past couple of years.

With physical boundaries and barriers of a centralised location disappearing and the growing realisation that a large chunk of technology work could be executed and delivered remotely, meant, Indian IT was competing for talent not just with other India-based players but also with international ones.

Also, the rise of start-ups in the country that had big ambitions and mostly limited means to hire these large tech companies meant they are willing to hire senior tech talent who are willing to work on the side.

While this gig economy sounds appealing, it has its own pitfalls. If moonlighting has to reduce, organisations have to relook at their execution models, culture and rewards mechanism. Employees too will have to look at issues of ethics and legality as the good times may not last forever.

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