Subscribe to blog via RSS

Search Blog

Working for free, part two

Categories: Career, The Juggle, Uncategorized, Working? Living?


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?

Subscribe to blog via RSS
Share this on:

3 comments so far...

  • Yikes. I think you make a good point about having to ask those questions.

    I think it’s also OK to ask “what will they do if I say no? Do they need me, or will they find someone else who will do it for free? And if they do, how will I feel about that?”

    Unfortunately, many companies will simply try to pay as little as possible, even if they are willing and able to pay more if necessary. I think you have to be careful you don’t let yourself get short changed in those situations.

    Miss Britt  |  August 19th, 2010 at 8:13 am

  • That’s a great point, Miss Britt. If it’s likely that the company would just ask someone else to do it — and if you’re not OK with that — then it’s a good indicator that the extra work has some value to you and is worth continuing to do without pay. I think this speaks to the whole “disposable workforce” issue I’ve written about before, too…

    Lylah  |  August 19th, 2010 at 9:05 am

  • Great article and just in time for me.

    I have a question as a budding writer here. I got an opportunity to do some interviewing for a blog site (did three articles so far) and I know that this is unpaid, but after a while, the creator of the blog wrote to me that I might be paid from ad revenue (ok, start up kind of thing). BUT then he invited other people to write (that are not sure how to write/do articles) that have contacted me to help (me? really?) so….I wrote to him saying look, I don’t mind helping her but, I don’t want to do the extra work here if I’m not going to be paid for it…and then I find out this was after I had interviewed her (similar subject).
    I asked him to write out a business plan to figure out exactly what the breakdown should be here since he does want more writers to join the site. What should be my lowest percentage here? I do appreciate any and all advice here.

    Gia Saulnier  |  August 23rd, 2010 at 1:29 pm