Green Light for Moonlighting and more!


From moonlighting to hybrid to compulsory cooling off, to wellness leave. India’s workplaces are changing dramatically as we return to work post-pandemic, amid steep attrition and demand for flexibility. Host Ratna Bhushan talks to Swiggy HR head Girish Menon, Quess Corp chairman Ajit Isaac and Economic Times senior editor Saumya Bhattacharya. On Green Light for Moonlighting and more!

This is an audio transcript of The Morning Brief podcast episode: Green Light for Moonlighting and more!

BG Sound 0:00  

So this is the morning brief from the economic times 

Ratna Bhushan 0:13  

delivering a new model for work, Swiggy told its employees, they can moonlight, meaning they can take up another job if they want and get a second salary. In contrast, just a few months back, employees at Infosys were shocked to find out that the HR was imposing an old but rarely used claws that barred them from joining any competing firm for at least six months. From flexible contracts to fierce non compete, all of this is unfolding as companies grapple with record attrition, people are quitting jobs within very short durations and demand for work balance, flexibility has never been higher. As we return to work post pandemic, different work modules are being put in place by different offices, from hybrid to moonlighting to a compulsory cool off, welcome to the new office.

BG Sound 1:17  

When it comes to being paid fairly, I don't think it's been done very sincerely, because those jobs those opportunities pay far more better. But then yes, of course, there's this concept of stability which is missing. I personally believe until and unless your employees working for you and giving 100% Then I think it is completely justified to let your employer moonlighting because what the person does in his or her free time is completely up to their well.

I used to work at a production house. And the good part about that place was that we were allowed to take up other projects as well. And I think moonlighting is a great initiative, because I mean, just think about it. That's how startups were made people did their regular day jobs and hustled on the side so that they could build something that they wanted to and take it ahead.

Ratna Bhushan 2:18  

It's Friday, August 12. I'm your host Ratna Bhushan from the economic times, and you're listening to green light for Moonlighting, and more on the morning brief. Let the show begin. On this episode with me, is someone who set the workplace universe buzzing as he introduced the moonlighting policy, Girish Menon, head of human resources at swiggy. exclusively on the morning brief, with details about India's first legit moonlighting policy. Let me start by asking you Girish, what prompted all the change? And is the single nine to five job now out of fashion.

Girish Menon 2:59  

See, Im quite positively intrigued by what this is triggering, right? It's not like Everybody's rushing to find the second gig. Now, frankly, it's about a lot of people who have this skill, and who can help another organization help themselves earn some more money or do it for passion, I think there are a lot of people who can do it. What we've done is to really enable it. now if you ask about productivity, my question back to anybody would be how are you ensuring productivity is happening in today's world? It's almost like a placebo. We almost think that, okay, just because someone is employed with us for nine hours that they're productive. That's not true. Right. So you will have to have mechanisms to ensure that people are engaged in an organization and you enable them and the productivity automatically happens, right? You can't wake up one day and tell I'm going to make everyone productive. It doesn't happen that way.

Ratna Bhushan 3:51  

But what led to the moonlighting policy? Was it research data insight, or something else?

Girish Menon 3:58  

All right. So I think people create policies, with the research many a times like 99.9% of the times, but point 1% of the time you you do tend to read the tea leaves, right? It's almost like, what will the future look like? So you do take intuitive calls to make certain policies. So I would say moonlighting is probably a mix of a healthy portion of intuition, because this is the fair the way we felt that the workplace will evolve. And people with skill will have opportunities to do side gigs, or what they call the side hustle. And by not normalized, it is something that, you know, was coming to our heads. So it really came from a simple question of, you know, instead of asking why, for everything that we do, start asking why not? And that's the same principle that we use even for our remote first policy, which we actually were one of the first in the industry to go remote first in back in November of 2001. Even there, it was backed by voices From the organization and a little bit of intuition, right, so I would say that moonlighting did come alive more from what we believe will be the future of work, and less about research or data to really back it at this point in time.

Ratna Bhushan 5:13  

We will quiz Girish a little more on the policy itself. But let me bring in Ajit Isaac, one of India's most respected HR executives, and founder and chairman of business services provider, Quess Corp. Ajit, we've heard of work from home work from anywhere hybrid, compulsory cool offs, and now Moonlighting. How has all of this disrupted workplaces?

Ajit Issac 5:42  

In my dad's time there was only one job, one company, one boss all his life. And all of that has changed in the current generation. So what's essentially happened is that permanent hire, which was the only method by which employ contracting was done has morphed into temp staffing further on into outsourcing of jobs, task based output oriented contract systems. And finally Moonlighting. If you take 500 million in size workforce, only about 22% of that is now in the organized sector, and it's only in the organized sector that you are able to, to contractually give moonlighting assignments, and to also observe and supervise them in a structured manner. The large part of the Indian economy still remains unorganized. And it's difficult to enforce contracts with systems there. What we're referring to here is basically about between 10 to over 20 million of the workforce of 500 million where the context of moonlighting is applicable, and where the economy is moving in the direction.

Ratna Bhushan 6:41  

Let's get in Saumya Bhattacharya, my colleague and senior editor who is the final word on the reportage on everything HR here at ET. Saumya is this a post pandemic stress disorder for workplaces?

Saumya Bhattacharya 6:55  

See things started to change during the pandemic itself, because we had the entire digital disruption happening. And the resultant attrition and employee turnover, especially in digital skills roles meant that a lot will change in the workplace. So since the pandemic has also changed the way we work, the strategies to retain employees have changed too. Let's look at the entire Great resignation piece. It started last year. And that's when organizations were prompted to think on their feet about how to find innovative solutions to stem attrition. On the employee perspective, the most important factors at work for employees are how their career path is panning out, and of course, the compensation packages. So for sectors that are witnessing high employee turnover, like E commerce and IT services, we've seen companies give payouts and promotions to deal with the employee Exodus, for instance, in the technology sector, counter offers with more than 50% salary hikes and in some cases, even 80% to 100% High became the norm at the peak of attrition when attrition levels were around 30% or so. So all that happened during the Great resignation phase, some of which is still continuing seems to have rationalized now that attrition levels are not as high as they will. And there seems to be some semblance of sanity in how payouts are happening right now.

Ratna Bhushan 8:34  

Interesting point Saumya, there seems to be some semblance of sanity finally, which are the other companies or sectors resorting to such disruptive employee policies.

Saumya Bhattacharya 8:45  

So when we talk about differentiative strategies, these are quite varied. And these can relate to mode of work. These can also relate to employee policies, and these are also about employee benefits. So one of the best strategies companies have discovered is letting employees decide how they work. And that has changed a lot of narrative and Indian workplaces. The decision making has been decentralized. So at companies like Microsoft India, managers and team they established team agreements, which means that they are balancing individual with team needs, and define how the team will work together. A lot of companies have also done away with rules around mode of work. Companies like Deloitte, are leaving it to individual partners, team leaders and reporting managers to decide when a team is required to meet at the workplace who needs to come in, among other things. We also have the second bucket of employee policies. And these are not just retention strategies, in my view, for instance, you spoke about Swiggy's moonlighting policy. This policy seems to be also aimed at presenting a differentiative employer brand.

Ratna Bhushan 10:06  

While new workplaces are bringing in more freedom and flexibility, will all of that be able to stop the steep attrition is the question? Let's hear from Swiggy's HR head Girish, what are the highlights of the moonlighting policy? Is it for example, for all employees?

Girish Menon 10:25  

There, it's absolutely for all full time employees of swiggy. It's a very inclusive and enabling policy and not a restrictive and a draconian one. So we want to get the spirit of this policy right and less about the letter of the policy. So we've kept it very open. And people can use any of their skills to participate in the moonlighting policy, be it professional skill, like if there's a Coder data scientists behavioral economist, or any kind of certification or skills that people would have acquired like coaching, counseling, or occasional skills, or, you know, professional art. So if somebody is a, you know, dancer, and they want to teach dancing, or somebody is a professional sportsman, they want to teach mixed martial arts be it anything. And if you look at moonlighting policy in isolation, it looks like, okay, what is this new policy about, but it's all the dots will connect, because we launched a policy called Learning wallet, sometime back, it's more than a year now. So people can choose to learn these skills, and we sponsor them. So if you see, we, as a company, we are okay to trust in our employees absolutely fine. I think that's the right thing to do, and develop them as a individual, and enable them to bring their holistic self to work. I think that's the future of work. And that's precisely what we are trying are attempting to do actually. So the policy includes all skills, and it is very inclusive. And and I'll leave it at that, right? Because like I told you, we want to get the spirit of the policy right.

Ratna Bhushan 11:49  

Some are saying it may not be easy to monitor conflict of interest, how will you deal with any, so to say breaches of trust? 

Girish Menon 11:57  

See, I would also urge all of us to think where is this question coming from? Right? I think there is a mindset, or at least, all of us live in a world where we almost build policies for the less than 1% whole flout across. That's how many policies don't happen. So this policy comes from a large portion of trust that we believe that, you know, employees will be responsible, having said that, employees will declare what moonlighting gigs or projects they're getting into. And we have very clearly defined that anything which is conflicting to our business, which is either it's a competition or it is an intellectual property of swiggy or they're uniquely advantaged by being a part of swiggy. And hence they have access to certain information, future plans, etc. These are not allowed. And I'm sure when more time we will get better at it. People also understand what's allowed, not allowed. And it's about just being patient for a couple of quarters for employees to really understand what they should not be doing, and what they can absolutely do. And if people do breach, I would say it's like any, any code of conduct breach, right? Any policy breach in any company is always a disciplinary committee.

Ratna Bhushan 13:10  

All these years moonlighting has been hushed, unethical, and companies have taken action against employees doing so instead of encouraging it. We've come a long way Haven't we Ajit?

Ajit Issac 13:25  

There are a few factors that are influencing this change. One is there is a need for more diversity in companies, companies are particularly going out to hire women, caregivers, and other marginalized sections of society. So they want to be accommodative in the way they have their contracts created. And to give them flexibility in employment. The second one is able to supervise all these people. Previously, if somebody was Moonlighting, there was literally no way which they will be supervised. Third is that employment contracts systems and the way workforce in the gig economy can invoice and collect their salaries has also become more distinct. So all of this contributes to the legitimization of the contracting process in moonlighting one and second is that the need for greater salaries of of employees, you know, with inflation being what it is, and salaries not really going up in proportion to inflation. Sometimes it creates a situation where employees are forced to go look for secondary employment opportunities in addition to their primary one that will help them pay off debts or create a larger savings structure. The requirement for skill sets despite the funding winter as one calls it is yet to tail off. And we find that the requirement for digital skills or even technology skills in non IT companies in regular manufacturing services industries are growing.

Ratna Bhushan 14:46  

So you believe policies like moonlighting are not just here to stay, but also grow. 

Ajit Issac 14:52  

So first is that moonlighting will continue to grow. It's a tendency that's come in to or it's a phenomenon that's come in to employ contracting systems and it's not going to back off. Second is going to grow out of technology related companies into definitely into the E commerce segment, and possibly into the retail segment and the QSR segment too. So all of these together will employ, you know, anywhere between, let's say, 35 to 40 million people all together. So that's one side of the story. The second side is that even as disintermediated businesses grow, you will find the ability to assign work to specific people, and to get outcomes from them, that growth will in itself influence Moonlighting.

Ratna Bhushan 15:33  

Soumya is there a stark difference between how new wage and old school companies are working towards retaining talent?

Saumya Bhattacharya 15:41  

New Age companies like swiggy, they are in a better position to roll out such policies. They also have a lifestyle technology brand called Noise recently, they have no questions asked, leave policy. So employees are allowed to take up up to four weeks of leave in a year, and you don't need to specify the reason. In the past. We've also seen Meesho roll out a wellness leave policy where you can take up to 365 days of paid leave if an employee of their loved one is impacted by a critical illness. There are pet adoption policies where, you know, companies are giving leave to new pet parents. So the attempt by young New Age companies to have differentiated human resource policies is quite prevalent. Now, this has been happening for some time. Zomato had rolled out a 26 week maternity leave. This was around three years back in 2019. And it's still a rarity in India. The question is, why are these New Age companies? Why do they manage to do what old school companies take longer to do perhaps. So in terms of HR policies, New Age companies seem to be far more agile. usually these people policies are driven by founders themselves. But Startups are more likely to bring about these changes compared to companies that employ 1000s or lakhs of employees, where any change in policy will require buying from multiple stakeholders. So so it becomes far easier for these New Age companies to roll out policies like these different companies, different eras, different risk taking. Yeah, to some extent, yes Ratna. But having said that, there are old school companies that have pioneered people policies in India. Tata Steel was one of the very first companies to hire those that identify themselves as transgenders. The entire LGBTQ plus inclusion piece is driven by companies, which are, by definition, older 

Ratna Bhushan 17:59  

Ajit, what's your take on the new versus old?

Ajit Issac 18:02  

I think there's a great influence that these younger companies are having on older companies. I was recently meeting the founding family members of a solvent extraction company in Bombay, or the larger ones, they employ about 800,000 people. They don't contract anything out right now. But when I was telling about how Quess has a multiple range of services, he's eager to come and meet us and talk to us. So the newer companies are showing the way because they don't have historical baggage. They don't have a legacy that they have to deal with. There are no unions, etc. Flexible methods of contracting is now finding its way into the old world economy too.

Ratna Bhushan 18:40  

Mindfeel of data on the kind of attrition levels. India is dealing with Ajit and Saumya, can you break it down?

Ajit Issac 18:48  

So attrition levels in the Deccan services sector has been between let's say 25 and 30%. And that is not coming up. Even now. The skill sets requirement in certain areas, particularly in big data analytics, etc, has continued to grow. And people are getting offers which are maybe between 30 and 40% greater than what the current salaries are.

Saumya Bhattacharya 19:10  

So compared to the last year, the attrition levels have come down slightly, but they're still high especially for E commerce sector, digital skill, and technology sector roles. For digital roles. attrition is high, there in the range of say 15% to early 20s. Another sector, which has actually started to witness high attrition currently is banks. Some banks are witnessing attrition levels of up to 30% as well,

Ratna Bhushan 19:41  

and what could be the challenges in monitoring external gigs?

Ajit Issac 19:44  

I think there are clear challenges in terms of organization culture. Second one is while you have encompassing contracts, some of the texts don't cover all sorts of situations. So it will take one or two bad apples and maybe some negative situations. For organizations rethink the way they're enforcing Moonlighting. The third is managers need to be trained, how do they manage gig workers?

Ratna Bhushan 20:10  

Final words from you Girish, you also extended Swigggy's remote work policy to everyone last month, how's it going so far. 

Girish Menon 20:18  

With the remote first policy that we have already launched, all of us know that large majority of our corporate staff work in cities, and any city and let's take example of Bangalore, on an average people are going to save anywhere between one to two hours of commute in a day. Right? And, and it's just not about the time saved. It's the energy that people will have, because they don't have to do this. Five days in a week, most of them, including me, in aearlier world where it was not remote first, the weekends were largely for us. I think now there is a lot of energy that people will save. It's not about productivity, or getting maximum out of someone, it's about bringing the holistic self to work. And the more people do things that make them happy, it's only going to benefit all of us, not just Swiggy, but the ecosystem at large. So the way we'll have to make them productive is not by really putting a gun on the head or increasing the targets. That's not the way we will do it. It's all about ensuring that people are engaged and we enable them. And I think this policy will create further trust in the employees and I actually see they'll be getting better at whatever they do. So I'm quite positive in terms of what this will lead to. And be nice to have a chat of the year in terms of what really happened because of this policy.

Ratna Bhushan 21:33  

So that's the date Girish, mark your calendar. Thank you Girish, Ajit and Saumya for your insights. Undoubtedly, one year from now as Girish suggested, the HR landscape will surely see sweeping changes. My take is all of this post pandemic hassle is still in the experimental stage. Some policies will be a smashing success, while others find themselves back on the table. But one thing is for sure, offices will never be the same again. Welcome to the future of work. I'm Ratna Bhushan, and you've been listening to greenlight for moonlighting and more on the morning brief. 

This episode was produced by Vinay Joshi from the economic times and Swati Joshi from Awaaz, Sound Editor, Indranil Bhattacharjee from The Economic Times and Soundarya Jayachandran from Aawaz, executive producers Anupria Bahadur and Arijit Barman from The Economic Times. We hope you enjoy listening to the episode, do share the episode on your social media networks. The morning brief airs every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Do tune into et play our latest platform for all audio content, including the morning brief. Thank you for listening and have a nice day ahead.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

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