Why I Refuse to Work For Free
Talk to enough people in the progressive and NGO sectors and you will find those who work more than they are paid for. There are a few ways this can manifest. Perhaps they don’t claim for the exact hours they work, don’t file for overtime, skip lunch breaks and holidays, or regularly gift their time in the name of the cause.
I used to be one of those people. With the exception of one consciously chosen pro-bono job a month, I refuse to work for free anymore. Here is why:
#1. Working for free is not good for the organisation you work for.
If you work for free they will have a skewed understanding of the labour needed. For example, if you work on launching a particular campaign or project and don’t come clean about the time you invest, those with no experience in your industry may never fully understand (or appreciate) what your work involves.
When I do pro-bono work, whether it is for an individual or an organisation, I invoice them. I state how many hours I worked on their project, including the skills I used, how much my rates would be, and write the total owing as $0. They need to know how much they will be paying the next person they hire to complete that same work. Not informing them of their savings does them and everyone else in your industry a disservice.
2. Working for free is not good for you.
It is not good for your self-respect. Chronic habits of working for free are not good for the bank balance or your health.
There is a disturbing trend of NGO’s and progressive start-ups advertising full-time jobs as part-time jobs. Even crazier, sometimes multiple roles (say, a project manager, social media maven, administration star and fundraiser) are asked for in one job description. These roles require vastly different and equally important skills. Even if an applicant ticked all the boxes, they still have the pressures of four different jobs tugging on their attention, and often within 10 or 20 paid hours a week.
Juggling several of these intense, high need part-time jobs to make ends meet is a recipe for burn out. I have been there and it is not pretty.
Having worked in the charity sector for years, I understand the need to be frugal on limited budgets but cold reality, quality of work and treating employees with respect need to come first. Overworked stressed employees cannot work at their best, tend to develop raging cases of resentment and don’t stay in their jobs long.
The other factor that could be behind your unwillingness to have a healthy work/life balance or be reticent to claim full recompense for your work is guilt. This is a classic. People working in the NGO sector are often led there by a moral compass and in charity work, there is always so much to do. The demands often feel urgent and overwhelming.
Some of us have trouble valuing ourselves, our time, experience and skills. Working class folks like me especially struggle with this.
Donating your time and skills is equal to donating a chunk of money. Sit down and work out a rough estimate of how much your donated time and skills are worth for 2015. Skipped lunch-breaks at $30 an hour are worth $1,800 a year. Add an hour leaving the office later each day and we’re at $3,800 a year. Have a look at your bank balance and decide whether you would give that amount to charity. No? Rethink your work ethics and make it work for you AND the organisation/s you work for.
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