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The Psychology Of Moonlighting

The Psychology Of Moonlighting by NeverGrowUp®

Remember when working from your office all 5 days a week was the norm? Granted, the pandemic changed that. Since then, the business world has seen a host of transitions with hybrid work, work from home and freelancing, to name a few. Some of these are still thriving peacefully - such as hybrid work models, while others have managed to draw some limelight… or, should we say, moonlight towards them.

The concept of ‘moonlighting’ simply means working more than one job, in addition to your primary role. But when does this become a problem? A large chunk of Gen-Zers’ have expressed interest in working as freelancers so that they can switch between multiple projects. A clear red flag, however, is when a secondary or tertiary job starts hampering the work quality of one’s primary role.

Despite all the criticism and ethical accountability, the psychological aspects of moonlighting are worth understanding. Check them out below.

1. Job Satisfaction- The Herzberg Theory

Frederick Herzberg was an organizational psychologist who put forward the theory of two-factor motivation. Since then, it has been used to understand how satisfied employees are with their jobs. According to him, every workplace has two factors - motivation factors (such as feelings of accomplishment at work) and hygiene factors (such as job security.) The presence of motivating factors can increase job satisfaction and the absence of hygiene factors can cause job dissatisfaction. When we talk about this theory in terms of moonlighting, a simple conclusion can be drawn that it is the absence of BOTH factors that lead to dissatisfaction which could result in employees looking for more than one job.

2. The Money Gluttony

Unlike the first one, this is a more personal factor. We’ve all read about the seven famous sins. Sometimes, human behaviour is governed by a lack of logic. A job can have all the hygiene and motivating factors, and some employees might still moonlight because they want “more.” This need for financial growth leads them to take up more than one job, and sometimes results in disaster. For instance, the case of a Bangalore man working seven jobs (yes, really).

3. Ethical Ambiguity

Ethics are the building blocks of any organization. When an employee joins a firm, they are asked and expected to fully know the values of the organization. Despite this, why do some employees still indulge in practices such as moonlighting that are against the values of a company? The answer can be traced back to a simple question, “Does everyone in the organization practice what they preach?” Moonlighting sometimes is a side effect of an organization not being true to its EVP which then trickles down to employees taking the company for granted. Maybe it is time for the organization to look back at their communications strategy.

4. The Congruence Of Self

When what you are is not in congruence with what your organization wants you to be, it leads to employees feeling like they don’t “fit” in the job role. The real (how the employee actually is) and ideal (how the organization expects him/her to be) ‘self’ of an employee needs to be on the same page. This can be done by better understanding the needs and demands of the employees, knowing your company culture in and out, assigning clarity to job roles, and having clear communication throughout the organization.

Is Moonlighting Really Just A By-Product Of Organizational Flaws?

There’s a bunch of advice on the internet that talks about how organizations can improve their work culture. Nevertheless, there are firms that have cracked the code to a great work culture and still have employees who were moonlighting on the side.

This leads to the fragmentation of the ongoing fallacy that it is an organization’s fault when an employee fails to follow its ethics. However, morals and ethics are extremely personal. Sometimes, employees choose to moonlight because the company itself lacks ethics, and sometimes it is a lack of balance on the employee’s part that causes it.

What does one do in such a situation?

The answer is simple - Pause and Reflect.

As an employee, it is your duty to stay true to your values. The line between moonlighting and morality can get blurry if we don’t reflect on it from time to time. Ask yourself some questions that can help you strike a balance between your personal choices and work ethics.


Whether the concept of moonlighting is legal or not is still up for debate in India, but until that gets settled, the least we can do is have clarity on the “whys” surrounding it.

After all, you can only tackle a problem if you know why it exists in the first place.


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