Disclaimer: I might not work for free but I do volunteer. I volunteer my time for all kinds of things, mostly involving teaching children about science, because I think that’s important. Volunteering is a good thing but should not be confused with work in the sense of potentially gainful employment.
This blog post was prompted by a company who contacted me not long ago. They will remain nameless because I see no sense in burning bridges with anyone who might eventually get their act together. They sent me a message saying they had seen my blog and would like me to write something for their website.
Very flattering, of course. Intrigued, I emailed back saying I would potentially be interested and asking for some more details. They sent some, outlining what their site does and the kind of content it hosts (almost anything by the sound of it but it’s certainly not a platform for promoting a cause, for example). They were keen to point out the benefits of writing for them which seemed to include being part of a community, getting feedback on your writing and so on.
So, while it sounded interesting I became suspicious. I asked what they pay their contributors for writing say, a 500 word piece. I can’t say I was surprised when they said that they are not, in fact, in a position to pay their contributors at the moment. So I told them that unfortunately I would not be able to write for them.
Here’s the thing: being a freelance writer is tough. No one ever wants to pay you, everyone always just wants to offer exposure or experience. I’ve written the odd piece I’ve been paid for and even when you’ve negotiated a fee it can be like drawing blood from a stone to actually get them to send you the money they owe you.
I’m not really a professional freelance writer, though. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again but it’s not my full time job. For some people it’s their main source of income and every time someone write for free, or for exposure, or for experience, they’re taking away a potential writing job for someone else. When we create a norm where people aren’t paid for their work we damage the earning potential of others. I don’t want to be a part of that.
It’s not just writing either. I’m currently contracted to work 17.5 hours a week, in a fortnight that will go up to 35 hours a week. While I don’t mind putting in the extra hour here and there so I can finish the task at hand or meet a deadline, it won’t be the norm and I will take that time back later. I know people who are contracted for 35 hour weeks and regularly work 80 hours.
That’s a problem for a few reasons. Firstly, it’ll kill you eventually. Secondly, if you work 80 hours you probably do double the work that someone who works 35 hours does. Of course, they shouldn’t feel obliged to work more than they are contracted for, at least not if they aren’t getting paid overtime. Later though, people will wonder why they aren’t doing as much as the 80 hour worker and pressure will be applied to get them to work as much. See how this can quickly spiral our of control?
Again, if someone’s working an 80 hour week when they should be working a 35 hour week that suggests there’s too much work for one person. It suggests that a second person should be hired. While someone is doing twice the hours they should be they prevent the need to hire someone and hence rob someone of a job. Folks, it’s not immigrants stealing jobs, it’s workaholics.
So, I won’t work for free. I’ll volunteer for causes I care about. I’ll help friends with stuff, of course, but I won’t work for free. I won’t work for experience or for exposure or to be a part of a really friendly network who could probably help me out further down the line. My work is good enough to be worth money, or it isn’t. If it is, pay me. If it isn’t, don’t ask me to do it.
Don’t let anyone steal your labour.