Moonlighting: Walking a fine line over |clandestine contracting

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Is it unethical? Sure, it is - unless you believe in transparency and inform both parties about the matter and they give you the go-ahead (which is unlikely in most cases)


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Tue 27 Sep 2022, 9:26 PM

Last updated: Thu 12 Jan 2023, 3:01 PM

Juggling two jobs at the same time isn’t something new. In popular culture, a working-class hero — or heroine — working a shift in two different spaces is par for the course. We admire such a person. Because he or she is seen to be doubling up for a good reason: taking care of the family. “My father/mother worked round the clock, holding on to two jobs just so we could have a hot meal on the table,” was a line that would have never, ever ushered in an ethics debate.

These days, there is a different hashtag trending; and one that involves more ‘privileged’ white-collar workers. Moonlighting. Some are calling it Clandestine Contracting. You are working two jobs — with neither of your employers’ knowledge. It’s the full-time equivalent of the gig. The only difference is that you are not a freelance (aka, up for grabs) ‘consultant’ with two companies; you work ‘full-time’ for both; and there’s no disclosure, full or half.

Covid has possibly been a tipping point. Over the course the pandemic lasted, when most of us worked from home, we realised we had more time on our hands. Commute time had been deleted from our lives. Virtual meetings were whittled-down versions of physical ones. We had been freed up from coffee/cigarette breaks and water filter conversations. Resultantly, eight-hour days or nine-hour workdays had become a fraction of what they had been trumped up to be. A bunch of the more enterprising lot felt it could afford them the time — and energy — to do a second job. Even if their ‘primary’ job paid them well enough, no harm in raking in some more money.

A Forbes article titled ‘The Remote Trend Of Working Two Jobs At The Same Time Without Both Companies Knowing’ mentioned a survey whose findings revealed that 50 per cent of respondents “worked for another company, while on the clock with their employer”. The same piece stated, “…Wall Street Journal reported on a scintillating new remote-work trend. It appears that ‘white-collar workers, in industries from tech to banking to insurance, say they have found a way to double their pay’. Their schtick is to ‘work two full-time remote jobs’. Like Fight Club, the first rule for these folks is ‘don’t tell anyone’ and ‘don’t do too much work, either’.” (The second bit — ‘don’t do too much work, either’ — is a throwback to yet another trend doing the workplace rounds: Quiet Quitting, and it’s interesting how the two have been intertwined.)

Recently, there was a report — ‘Forget Quiet Quitting, the Next Big Thing is Clandestine Contracting’ — in by Nick Hobson, a behavioural scientist. On social media, we are, by default, constantly looking for the Next Big Thing, so, predictably, this went viral. “Clandestine contracting is an inevitable outcome of a long-broken system that subverted the needs of the average worker in favour of maximising shareholder value. Capitalism at its finest. Now, people are intentionally ‘over-employing’ themselves, working two full-time 40-hour jobs without bosses knowing, just to make ends meet, so they can be able to get ahead and have a sense of financial security for themselves and their families in the future.” This immediately brought back the glory days of the working-class hero (or heroine) to our mindscape… A bit misplaced, I thought — since most of them are not blue-collar workers.

So, now, the way I see it, you can be doing a second job for one of three reasons. Because you need the money. Because you want money. And because you want to upskill while being on the job: some people I know say they are working an extra job primarily because they are bored with their 9-to-5 ones and they are looking for a more ‘creative’ outlet (and, of course, the money doesn’t harm).

Is it unethical? Sure, it is — unless you believe in transparency and inform both parties about the matter and they give you the go-ahead (which is unlikely in most cases). As if on cue, a few days ago Indian tech giant Wipro sacked 300 of its employees because it was “found out” that they had been moonlighting: “certain employees found to be operating in circumstances that are in direct conflict with Wipro’s interests have been terminated”, said a company statement. Chairman Rishad Premji, who spearheaded the decision, pointed out that moonlighting qualifies as “cheating, plain and simple”.

Premji has since been inundated with hate mails — because the general understanding has been that these employees were perhaps in need of (more) money, and that Wipro is probably subscribing to the insidious ‘capitalism at its finest’ credo. Methinks that’s a serious stretch since IT is a well-paid sector, but the workplace ethics debate will now go full tilt.

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