I’ve written before about when it might make sense to work for free, and now I’m taking a look at the other side of that issue: If you initially took on extra responsibilities at your job without pay, then started getting paid to do them, are you obligated to continue to work for free if the company suddenly doesn’t want to pay you any more?
Answer: As always, it depends. Ask yourself these three questions:
Why has the company decided to stop paying you? If they’re facing an economic crisis and everyone has been asked to do more for less in order to keep the company afloat, then yes, it may be worthwhile to consider continuing to work, for a while, without pay. But there comes a point where the work you’re doing for free impacts your ability to do other work for pay, and — especially if you’re the breadwinner and your mortgage is on the line — that’s when you have to readjust the scale.
Will the extra, now-unpaid responsibilities help you land a better job (or more paid gigs) down the line? If you have little experience in a subject or field of work, working for free may bolster your resume and make you a more viable candidate for other jobs in the future. Many of us were interns once, and it was a great learning opportunity. But that doesn’t mean you have to be an intern again, especially if you already have plenty of that particular kind of experience under your belt.
Can you be compensated in some other way? Maybe you can get paid in additional time off. Maybe you’d be able to expense your research materials or use company resources. Maybe, in exchange for keeping the additional responsibilities, the company would be willing to pay for you to take career-related coursework or attend a professional conference. Maybe flex time would make the additional work worthwhile. Explore your options — there may be more to be gained than money. But if there’s no compensation of any kind to be found anywhere — or if your company is not willing to consider it — don’t feel guilty about saying no.
I think this situation can apply to middle- and upper-management as well, so, working moms and dads, let’s chat: Your boss calls you in to his or her office, says that the company appreciates the work you’ve done that’s clearly outside the scope of your job’s requirements, but they can no longer pay you to do it — and that they want you to continue to do it anyway, without payment. What do you do?