The year 2020 tested the entire international community beyond measure. The COVID-19 pandemic became a catalyst for change, and it also became an impetus for us to think and rethink our life choices. While citizens sought out methods to deal with the situation on a personal level, national leaders debated ways to secure public wellness. As governments across the globe gradually started announcing lockdowns as a measure to curb the spread of the virus, there was an overnight shift from working in the offline realm to remote working. Owing to that, people did away with long commutes and other hustles of physically going to their offices, thus bringing more flexibility and fluidity to their work schedules.
This shift also yielded new opportunities for juggling smaller side projects in the free time for those keen enough to take them up. This ultimately led to the increase in the prevalence of an employee culture which is termed as ‘moonlighting’.
The term essentially refers to a side hustle taken up in addition to one’s primary full-time employment. Often, such side jobs are undertaken in secret, without informing the employer. Since this does not involve full-time engagement, workers opting for such side jobs do not see it as a direct conflict of interest.
This culture of employment particularly became prevalent in the later part of the pandemic and has been on the rise since then. Most employers, however, are not quite pleased with its emergence and have opposed the practice by calling it unethical. Wipro, a leading IT firm in India, terminated 300 employees who were found to be moonlighting with one of its key rivals at the same time. The company’s chairman, Rishad Premji flagged the issue, equating it to cheating. Similarly, Indian IT major Infosys has reportedly warned employees that moonlighting could lead to termination of services.
However, not everyone has criticised the practice; people like Tech Mahindra’s CEO C.P. Gurnani welcomed the change and remarked that it is necessary to keep up with the changing times. While this difference in opinion is necessary to critically evaluate the situation, one is also led to contemplate the cause behind employees’ decision to undertake extra work and the impact that such rigorous engagement can have on them.
In recent years, with growing concerns about economies and personal security, the term hustle culture has taken a significant place in millennial and Gen Z vocabulary. Also known as grind culture, it basically refers to the mentality that one must constantly work hard and push oneself beyond their limits to achieve capitalist goals, such as wealth, prosperity, and success, as quickly as possible.
In most cases, the need for money is the driving force for people to indulge in round-the-clock hustle, consequently leaving people with little or no time to rest themselves. In the same vein, people take up side jobs in addition to their full-time commitments (moonlighting) to achieve entrepreneurial ambitions and earn extra money, ultimately giving into hustle culture, even if it leads them to acute burnout. Such incessant indulgence in work not only takes a major toll on an individual’s physical health, but also on their mind and emotions because it seldom gives them free time to participate in leisure or recreational activities. Not only that, since there is always too much to work on and there is also a persistent pressure to perform well, particularly because one wants to be “deserving” of the salary they think they are worthy of, it constantly keeps these individuals in a loop of worry, in turn, giving rise to extreme stress.
Apart from that, working for extra hours also results in reduced productivity which can become another factor for stress and anxious thoughts. Studies have also shown how long working hours make individuals more susceptible to experiencing depression and how it can negatively affect their relationships with people.
When one looks at the grievous impact that moonlighting as a phenomenon and a culture can have on individuals, one is forced to ponder whether it is actually worth putting one’s health and well-being at risk for some extra money? The ever-present capitalistic greed and the never-ending chase for financial gains has brought humankind to a point where we think that rest is something we only deserve after wearying ourselves to the point of exhaustion. Work-life balance is a concept long known to us, but will we ever really achieve that if we do not regulate our thought processes and desires? It is a question to meditate on, and a rather important one.
Nehal Lala is a mental health ally who is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology. You can reach out to her for a conversation about literature, Philosophy, food, travel, and everything in between at @nehal_lala on Instagram.