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IBM India tells employees they can moonlight – but only for good causes, with permission

Local boss wants workers to indulge in their passions … so long as it doesn't conflict with Big Blue's activities

An email appears to have come from the desk of IBM India's managing director informing Big Blue's worker bees they must secure approval for tech-related activities they undertake on their own time, as the company becomes the latest to have its say on the controversial-in-India topic of moonlighting.

"The moonlighting concept can cause a lot of confusion if not clarified at a granular level which is why I am writing you," wrote IBM India boss Sandip Patel. But Patel did not clarify at a granular level – in fact he added overall more confusion to the after-work hour activity permission pile.

Patel defined moonlighting as having a second job, in addition to one's regular full-time employment. He stated that company guidelines make it clear that employees avoid activities that create a conflict of interest with IBM's business.

However, he then muddied the waters by telling IBMers the company values their passions, but that they must be wary of personal interests upon which IBM may frown:

At IBM, our stance has always been clear: we encourage every IBMer to bring their whole selves to work. Your passion – be it for art, dance or music – is celebrated here, and in that spirit, we'd love to see you pursue your interest. However, if you advance a personal interest, directly or indirectly, at the expense of IBM's interests, it is treated as a serious conflict of interest and a violation of trust.

Patel then called a second job – whether it's full-time, part-time or contractual – "a failure to comply with employment obligations and a potential conflict with IBM's interests."

Patel's email doesn't explain exactly what he considers "IBM's interests." India's moonlighting debate has centered on staff who may use spare time to exercise their skill at another business, or work on a startup.

It's unclear if the mail therefore covers such activities, even if they couldn't conceivably cost IBM a single cent of lost revenue or in any way intersect with work for clients. It also offers no guidance on whether a side tangential tech-related hustle like an Etsy shop selling quirky PC case mods or scoring some cash in an esports tournament could be forbidden.

"If it's gray, stay away or ask for clarification," said Patel.

Patel was clearer about philanthropic activity.

"If you intend to engage in any activities outside of IBM, including work with any non-profit or philanthropic activity, please follow the approval process available here," said the managing director, who then provided a link to a document titled "Third Party Activity and Board Approval".

The Reg has reached out to both IBM and Patel and will update if either respond confirming or clarifying the email.

Moonlighting has been a major discussion point in India of late, particularly among IT services giants. Infosys CEO Salil Parekh last week said employees will be allowed to take on external gigs if they secure company approval – a reversal of a position from just a month prior when the company warned workers that "dual employment" could result in disciplinary action.

Tata Consultancy Services' chief operating officer, N Ganapathy Subramaniam, has also labeled moonlighting an ethical issue that damages the culture, resulting in short-term gain for long-term pain.

And Wipro revealed last month that it fired 300 employees for taking on extra work after executive chairman Rishad Premji called the activity "cheating – plain and simple." ®

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