More People Working for Free

How does that help the economy? How does that help the person doing the work? How do unpaid workers pay their bills and provide for themselves – and possibly family members – with the basics; namely, shelter, food and funds to live on? Fortune ran an article on Friday highlighting the ups and downs of unpaid staff:

With nearly 14 million unemployed workers in America, many have gotten so desperate that they’re willing to work for free. While some businesses are wary of the legal risks and supervision such an arrangement might require, companies that have used free workers say it can pay off when done right. … “People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they’re going to outperform, they’re going to try to please, they’re going to be creative,” says Kelly Fallis, chief executive of Remote Stylist, a Toronto and New York-based start-up that provides Web-based interior design services. “From a cost savings perspective, to get something off the ground, it’s huge. Especially if you’re a small business.” [….]

The obvious advantages that I see are unpaid worker gets a boost on their résumé, perhaps a letter of referral for a prospective employer with a paying job; and there’s always the emotional boost of having a purpose and being valued. The employer gets someone who is eager to work and please and will get the job done.

As noted in Fortune’s article, working for free for one woman paid off in spades. A woman with 30 years of marketing experience got laid off. She worked for a company for free for a year applying her 30 years of experience to help build the company. After a year of free work, she was offered a paid position at that company as president.

That’s an amazing story and an amazing person. But what about those who don’t take their job seriously because they are unpaid? What about those who are paid and feel slighted because they are passed over for promotion that was given to a free worker? Besides legal questions, there’s a host of “office synergy” questions that come into play. In my opinion, this is a risky venture. I’ve been the volunteer in an office setting where everyone else is “on salary.” There’s a tendency to see volunteer staff as less valuable simply because they are a volunteer. It’s a tricky endeavor and hopefully, one that does not become the norm.

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