Moonlighting: The true academic way

Moonlighting: How wonderful and peaceful this sounds. One of my favourite ways to relax is gazing at the moon! Is that moonlighting? Apparently NOT.

Recently there has been a lot of angst expressed with regard to moonlighting by the corporate giants especially in the IT sector. A correspondent with The Economic Times wrote a piece titled ‘To Moonlight or Not To...’ on September 11, 2022. It was followed by a series of responses in other newspapers.

So what is Moonlighting? Officially Moonlighting means ‘having a second job, typically secretly or at night (?), in addition to regular employment’. Phew! Now that sounds fishy, even unethical. That was the reaction of a lot of corporate sector honchos. “There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating – plain and simple”, Rishad Premji, Chairman, Wipro, tweeted. At the other end was a more practical reaction, “Frankly, I am probably making it a policy. If you want to do it, sure. But be open about it and share with us”, C.P Gurnani, MD and CEO, Tech Mahindra (quotes from Economic Times, September 11, article quoted earlier).

The top five Indian IT service companies have water tight employment contracts that do not allow working for any other company or taking up part-time assignment elsewhere. Some companies place conditions like seeking permission from the unit head, which is a more practical approach. TCS and Wipro are on one side, with stringent provision on moonlighting, while Tech Mahindra has a broader view on the new trend (ET, September 11, 2022). Recently the top Indian IT company Infosys sent out a stern warning to its employees against moonlighting. ‘No two-timing, no moonlighting and no double lives’. (Mani and Phadnis, Times Business, Times of India, September 13, 2022).

I am an academic and most high-end academic institutions allow its faculty to take up assignments with other organisations and write papers as invited guests. It is part of the value and competence that the concerned faculty has earned over time and is seen by their parent institutions as beneficial to them. Teaching and research are expected to add knowledge that is a public good and should be shared with a wider audience. It is not considered as moonlighting. Often such assignments are done pro bono. Most good academic institutions have consulting rules that allow faculty to undertake such assignments after reporting it to the parent institution. The rules also define how the fees received from such assignments will be shared with the institution.

As suggested by Sai Ishwarbharath in the Economics Times article, ‘organisations may want to become flexible, replacing the strict policies currently in place that prohibits any outside activity.’ Taking a cue from the academic institutions, such as IIMs and IITs and top private universities, corporates could reframe their rules to move with the times. IT companies and others are bound by contracts with clients, may have conflict of interest and have to protect their intellectual property. But to completely rule out the possibility of executives providing knowledge and assistance to other organisations in the age of easy access through information technology is an ostrich like behaviour, burying the head in the sand!

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