My husband regularly works long hours and even pulls all-nighters in order to clear his plate at the office. I used to, too — before a pay cut made me take a second look at how much my time was worth.
Sure, hard work always pays off, as the saying goes. It just seems like sometimes it pays a lot less than it used to. When the work piles up and I can’t get it done during the work day, instead of automatically bringing it home with me I find myself calculating the dwindling dollars and cents of my hourly wage and deciding that I’m more than willing to do it on company time, for pay, but not at home, for free.
To be honest, I was a little reluctant to write that last sentence there. It just smacks of having a bad attitude, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it that way — I’m not trying to “stick it to the man” or anything. No… my point is that I’ve noticed that the more I’m willing to do for less, the more I’m expected to do for less. It’s a vicious cycle.
It also plays into a topic that Mir tackled at The Cornered Office a couple of years ago (on the post that first brought me to Work It, Mom!, as a matter of fact): “You deserve a decent wage for your work, and settling for less makes it harder for every working writer out there to get it.”
So, is it ever OK to work for free? In spite of my griping, and in spite of Mir’s great point, I have to say… yes. Sometimes, it is.
I recently took on a project that turned out to be a major time suck. It was voluntary, and I wasn’t getting paid, and it got complicated, but you know what? It was worth it, because it allowed me to give back to a community that I’ve wished I could do more for over the years. So… working for free is OK when it’s your way of donating something to a community or company you value.
I also think it’s OK if you’re being compensated in other ways — like directing traffic to your website or creating clips for your brand-new, I’m-still-getting-experience portfolio. Then it’s more like bartering; you might not be getting paid in money, but you’re still being compensated for your work.
I’m a journalist, and I know that writing and editing are strange beasts in the working world. So I’m curious… in your profession, whatever it is, do you ever work for free? Why or why not?