Open architecture moonlighting: The right choice

The core issue here is not what the employee does outside work but the issue of ensuring that it is not in conflict with what the organisation does.

Open architecture moonlighting: The right choice
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By Vineet Nayar

A company or an organisation is a group of people coming together for a common purpose. The alignment in goals and objectives is what drives motivation and commitment.

It is unfortunate that a large number of organisations do not spend enough time to achieve this alignment. Thus, the employee motivation is low and the employee’s alignment with the organisation is poor. A competitive rather than a collaborative culture, where an employee is just a number, is driving many employees away to seek satisfaction.

Gone are the days when organisations used to own employees. It was called slavery back then. Today it is a partnership for a few hours a week. Thus, ethically, organisations cannot lay claim to what the employee does outside work, something that is being done nowadays in the name of ‘moonlighting’. The core issue here is not what the employee does outside work but the issue of ensuring that it is not in conflict with what the organisation does.

Moonlighting is unstoppable

Today all employees do try to engage with the world outside and work in various forms. This is unstoppable. Thus, rather than try and stop them, an attempt must be made by organisations to canalise that trend as has been done with senior management of various companies and allow them to do so, so long as it is not in conflict with the organisation.

The very use of the word ‘moonlighting’ is wrong. Is senior management being part of other company boards moonlighting? When they invest their own money in startups and make profits, is that moonlighting? Is their trading in stock markets moonlighting? Can an editor writing a book or an article for other publications be called moonlighting? So why call everything an employee does outside work as moonlighting?

Not Always for Money

It is mistakenly believed in almost all moonlighting conversations today that employees do it for money. The key driver of this trend is not money but satisfaction. It is often done by the employees for the feeling that their skills are valued and of use to someone else. This is why this trend is unstoppable. The high that the employees get when they feel wanted and respected is what drives the employees, something that they don’t see happening in their workplaces and organisations.

The response from many organisations these days is quite confusing. Instead of cleaning up their own house, they are going in the opposite direction of converting the workplace into jail houses where big daddy will regiment every keystroke and watch every move of the employees. It will slowly implode and good employees will not want to work in such a toxic and restricted environment.

Thus organisations should adopt an open architecture by asking employees to go ahead and undertake paid volunteer work outside work hours, as long as it does not conflict with the organisation’s interest . By relenting, or rather opening-up this regime, a forward-looking organisation would increase motivation and align the interests of the employee multi-fold.

Focusing On Right Things

Such opening-up will boost the performance of the employees and take ethics out of the equation. The key aspect would be focusing on two things – one, that there cannot be any moonlighting that is in divergence with the organisation’s goals and objectives and second, the organisation has to focus on boosting employee motivation and satisfaction rather than policing every activity of the employee.

Organisation’s must adopt ‘Employee First, Customer Second’ philosophy in which respecting employees and doing everything possible to enthuse, encourage and enable them to learn, grow and profit from their association with the organisation. It is important to invert the pyramid and make the management equally accountable to employees that will unleash magical energy and drive all the employees to bring about transformation.

No organisation can grow and sustain in the long run if it does not find ways to align itself with the aspirations of employees. Thus, as these aspirations change and employee behaviours change, organisations need to change with times and be flexible, yet build guard rails to protect their interest. This is something that can be seen with parenting today – giving the child tremendous space to experiment and grow but within some boundary rules. Employees are also someone’s child!

Open Moonlighting Policy

Having an open moonlighting policy, underpinned by focusing on employee motivation, will ensure that the concept of permanent employees and job security remains pertinent. However, organisations must also be ready for such concepts to become secondary and ultimately even fade away in future-oriented workplaces. Organisations will need to come out of their mentality of owning employees vis-à-vis working with employees and collaborating with them.

Organisations must open the side gates and bring in fresh air so it does not look like a suffocating jail, as it seems today. However, care must be taken that all hiring is not done as ‘contract employees’ giving the employees complete freedom to moonlight.

Organisations must also understand that letting employees pursue something that interests them in their spare time, whether being done for money or otherwise, can turn out to be more productive for them. Employees who engage, after office, in some activity that excites them or interests them can feel more rejuvenated and enthused and may perform better at office. Many employees may just take up small projects or tasks on weekends to let their creativity flow and not necessarily to earn money. Not all tasks are taken for pecuniary interests but many of those tasks or activities do pay them which may be purely coincidental. So it is important for organisations to understand that the employees need a little space of their own which may mean taking up small projects or errands. Encroaching upon such little spaces or muffling the opportunities that the employees find for themselves may prove to be counter-productive.

(The author is the former CEO of HCL Technologies & author of the book ‘Employees First, Customer Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down ‘. Views are personal.)

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First published on: 10-10-2022 at 13:34 IST