- Could Sunlighting be a Viable Alternative to Moonlighting?
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October 31, 2023

In the clients I coach, I've noticed a shift toward "sunlighting"—a term that describes how employees blend their personal projects and passions into their conventional roles, often with organizational approval. Unlike the secretive nature of moonlighting, sunlighting is the transparent integration of one's personal and professional lives.

There are ample reasons for this shift -

  • The rising cost of living has outpaced salary growth, pushing employees to seek additional income streams.
  • Traditional roles may not fulfill all aspects of one's purpose, driving individuals to find meaning through other projects.
  • A full-time job may limit opportunities to explore new interests or develop new skills.
  • Side ventures offer a space for creative control, free from corporate hierarchy.
  • Seeking ways to make a tangible difference in areas important to the individual, outside the scope of their primary job.

Companies with an eye on the future are now encouraging this practice by allowing employees to allocate a part of their working hours to ventures that are "outside" their official job roles.

Take, for example, the legendary "20% time" policy at Google, which gave rise to groundbreaking projects like AdWords. This highlights an emerging social contract between businesses and their workforce. The message is clear: "Your creativity isn't entirely ours; we acknowledge and celebrate your aspirations beyond your cubicle."

A Symbiotic Trade

The advantages of sunlighting benefit both individual employees and the broader organization.

  1. Workers get a platform and resources to road-test their ideas.
  2. Companies stumble upon accidental innovation while witnessing an increase in employee engagement.
  3. When employees can channel their strengths in both personal and professional avenues, the rewards show up as higher productivity and reduced attrition.
  4. Recognizing workers as holistic beings rather than mere cogs in a machine creates a compelling work environment that drives up retention.

Sunlighting acts as an antidote to the scourge of burnout. When work transforms from a mere transactional exchange of time for money to a more meaningful endeavor, motivation tends greater. Rather than viewing workers as resources to be efficiently exploited, sunlighting views them as volunteers whose passions need encouragement.

A Delicate Balance

Nonetheless, sunlighting has its complexities. Without adequate planning and attention, the practice could quickly descend into a chaos of conflict, mismanagement, and unmet expectations. Providing a framework for prioritization can help employees balance their energy and focus. Psychology suggests that engagement peaks when employees can allocate their focus according to the relative importance of various tasks.

Sunlighting has different ramifications for different roles within an organization. While roles that value independence may thrive, those that demand collective coordination might struggle. The key lies in discerning where to exercise sunlighting and where to exercise restraint. I encourage clients to experiment with sunlighting as an option for disengagement and burnout.

Questions for What's Ahead

The blurring boundaries between work and personal life, highlighted by the rise of hybrid work models, make sunlighting a timely issue. But its practical implementation demands that we challenge our rooted notions about productivity, human creativity, and well-being.

Here are some points to noodle on:

- How can we broaden our understanding of professionalism to fully honor the skills and talents of our teams?

- Where can we encourage greater alignment between individual aspirations and organizational objectives?

- Are we willing to challenge traditional work norms in favor of more agile, human-centered models?

- What safeguards can we put in place to capitalize on the benefits of sunlighting while minimizing its potential downsides?

With careful consideration, this new paradigm can pave the way for a more fulfilling, multifaceted professional life.

Should companies offer strict policies on moonlighting or allow room for sunlighting? The answer might be a balanced approach that neither stifles employee freedom nor exposes companies to potential risks. Either way, it's time to rethink he we approach employment and day-to-day work. 

author avatar
George Morris
I use my 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience and training to coach businesses on scaling up rapidly using Verne Harnish's Scaling Up framework. By doing so, my clients are more efficient and profitable, giving them the ability to make bigger impacts in the world. I deeply believe entrepreneurs are the best equipped to be the vehicle for meaningful change, and in the decade ahead, we'll see a substantial shift in how business is done. We'll move to a model where company purpose, impact, curiosity, and team health will be differentiators in overall business success. As Simon Sinek has pointed out, the finite games are the legacy of the past; we're moving to an infinite game.