moonlighting: There is no Diet Coke employment; you can’t have security of permanent employment & moonlight too: Manish Sabharwal, Teamlease


“There is no Diet Coke employment; you cannot have the taste without the calories. If you want to work for a big company, have the predictability, have the security, have the community. You want to freelance, you are welcome to have the flexibility, you are welcome to have the uncertainty but then do not expect the guarantees or the underwritings which a big company does,” says Manish Sabharwal, Vice Chairman,

Should moonlighting be sort of nipped in the bud or should we go the Swiggy way where you accept what is happening but let it happen within boundaries that a company chooses to place?
I think employers have the right to set conditions that they want and employees have the right to accept or not take that job. The single employment contract has changed to eight types of employment contract. I sort of agree with Wipro’s Rishad Premji that if you signed on for full-time employment, you should take full-time employment. Otherwise, you are welcome to work with as a gig worker or as a consultant or as a part-time worker.

The point being made here is about committing to a contract. If you want to change the contract, you are welcome to negotiate it. I know lifetime employment has been replaced by the taxi-cab relationship but I am not sure it is fair to sign one contract and then expect another contract.

Full-time employment is exclusive employment and one is welcome to not go for full-time or exclusive employment. It would be really asymmetric for employers to accept that. It is already asymmetric, Employees can resign anytime they want but Indian labour laws do not always let employers get rid of employees. So, it is probably unfair to say I want to have a full-time employment contract which is exclusive and get the security of the fixed income but will continue to do what I want.

Indian employers are very open to eight kinds of employment contracts. Employees should pick one and commit to it.

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If you have a fixed employment for X number of hours a day to do an X number of jobs and to do a specific job, why does that give the employer a right over your entire life and over your 24 hours and your weekends and holidays? A job is not an ownership of a person, isn’t it?
Yes but there is an exclusivity in that particular kind of contract which we have traditionally had. One can have an open marriage. Most of us have picked marriages or employment contracts which have certain reciprocity in theme. I do not think it is slavery to agree to do a job for an employer. Most of these workers do not exactly work 9 to 5. Most of the time, the job spills over. We are knowledge workers. This is not the factory regime and the work is not in a way that factories have shifts and trade unions. Only 20% of India’s labour force is unionised.
So I would say no this is not the assertion that an employment contract requires exclusivity is one kind of employment contract which deserves to be enforced. If you do not like that, there are seven other employment contracts and you should pick those.

Your analogy with an open marriage is very interesting. It is a partnership of convenience. between two sides and the terms cannot necessarily be asymmetrical. When you have new people coming in on the workforce in their early 20s, do they have the wherewithal to choose what kind of a contract they are given?
It is a myth that organisations pay salaries. Customers pay salaries. Organisations and shareholders do not pay salaries. This debate is not new. It feels new but presentism is a disease historians are against. You believe that today’s circumstances are so special and unique and obviously technology enables remote working and work from home means work from anywhere and obviously portfolio skills are becoming the way to go in IT; there is Ronald Coase who got the Nobel Prize for his Coase’s law. When transactions cost between freelancers become too much, it is better to be inside an organisation.

Coase’s law with which in the 1950s and 1960s the case was made that sometimes it is better for people not to be in organisations because the transaction costs are low. Obviously the internet connectivity changes some of that but I do not think big organisations are going anywhere and I think some people out of lifestyle choices may choose to be freelancers but some people like the predictability of 9 to 5 job in exchange for the community, in exchange for not having to worry about where pay cheque will come.

So I would say it is a little bit narcissistic to believe that everybody in Gen Z or Gen X or millennials are not different from us or our parents . I think it is unfair to say everybody wants to be a freelancer or everybody wants to work gigs. Some people have higher tolerance for uncertainty, some people value flexibility but some people do value predictability. This diversity in human motivations has existed for a long time.

Can anyone actually do justice to more than one job with 24 hours in a day or will there have to be some flexibility in what exactly that second gig is? Is it not better to have some flexibility to ensure that this whole quiet quitting is not coming in? That you ensure people are willing to come back to office?
First of all, 5% of the labour force cannot work from home, they work with their hands and legs. Second, this job security nostalgia is only applicable to 10% or 15% of India’s labour force because 50% works in agriculture and 35% works in the informal sector. So we must recognise this conversation is a sampling error for the Indian labour force, at least right now.

I am really not sure that it is right to extrapolate the wishes and desires of some people to the whole labour force. Those people who want flexibility are welcome to choose flexibility. The problem is they want to choose flexibility while seeking the upside of security and a large organisation. There is no Diet Coke employment; you cannot have the taste without the calories. If you want to work for a big company, have the predictability, have the security, have the community. You want to freelance, you are welcome to have the flexibility, you are welcome to have the uncertainty but then do not expect the guarantees or the underwritings which a big company does.

I have no issues with diversity and I think that frankly… it is not. I am sorry India has the largest gig economy in the world for the last 50 years. 50% of our labour force is self-employed. Be careful with presentism.

I agree this is about the IT sector, it is about large companies. One would argue that people who are engaging in informal labour anyway have a plan A, plan B, plan C all the way to plan F and that is a different story. We are talking about a certain segment of employees and employers and within that construct, my point is this may be a newer fuelled by the pandemic. Do we need to start recognising instead of saying it is my way or the highway?
I think it would be very hard for employers of a certain kind to totally be open architecture. What they can do is create eight different kinds of employment contracts which many of them have and people can choose which bucket they self select to be in. I think you cannot have it both ways. You need to pick your life and you are welcome to pick your life.

India has created the world’s largest democracy but it is also the world’s most hierarchical society. Companies are hierarchical. I am just making the case that I welcome flexibility, I welcome freedom, just choose your bed and sleep in it, do not try and cut and paste the best of the world. Life is about picking the package you want and all packages have upsides and downsides.

Do you think this debate will die down very quickly or are we just seeing the beginning of it?
Ronald Coase who got the Nobel Prize said that every solution creates new problems. So let us just be careful with this magic bullet sort of view. The debate has been around for decades. It will be around for a few more decades and people and organisations will choose the side that works best for them. Just make your choices and live with them. People in the middle of the road get hit by trucks from both sides.

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