My husband regularly works long hours and even pulls all-nighters in order to clear his plate at the office. I do, too -- but not as often as I used to. A pay cut made me take a second look at how much my time was worth, and what I was willing to spend it on.
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, I find myself calculating the dwindling dollars and cents of my hourly wage and figuring out how much I'm willing to take home to do for free (or, really, at my family's expense).
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, and my readers at The 36-Hour Day seem to agree.
My work-for-free dilemma 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 commitment -- much more of one than I thought it would be. 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 fine when it's your way of donating something to a community or company you value.
Getting paid for your time and effort doesn’t always have to involve money. Flex time, comp time, or experience that bolsters a weak part of your resume are all forms of compensation worth considering. I also think the few minutes spent readying your workstation for the next employee, tying up the loose end of a project, filling in a colleague by memo, or even prepping yourself for the next day are all examples of extra, unpaid time well spent.
But what about when your unpaid work eats into the time you normally spend with your kids? Where do you draw the line?
I'm a journalist, and I know that writing and editing are strange beasts in the working world. And I’m on salary -- I think it would be different if I had to punch a time card every day. So I'm curious... in your profession, whatever it is, do you ever work for free? Why or why not?