Work for free?

Recently, I saw a post in a Facebook group set up for people who live in my local area. People use it to chat about local stuff and air every conceivable grievance. Someone posted an interesting question:

If your boss, who is generally a really good employer, asked you to work and extra day for free, would you do it?


Nope, nope, nope.

The vast majority of people were pretty clear. A good boss loses “good boss” status if they expect you to give up an entire day for zip, zilch, nada. Unless working extra days here and there is part of your salary agreement or contract, they shouldn’t even ask. Most agreed that cash was preferable but many thought time off in lieu was an appropriate alternative. But definitely not for nothing in return. Your boss might be very grateful, it’s true, and it might be a once-off. Or it might become a regular thing that you, the employee, find awkward and difficult to refuse, because you’ve agreed to it before.

Are there exceptions?

In the freelance world, there are loads of people out there that want to pay creatives for their work in that mythical beast, “exposure”. There are times when one might consider it. Bloggers, for example, will often make a deal to exchange guest posts. This is good for search engine optimisation, with the hosting website linking back to the blog of the guest writer. So, while no money changes hands, there’s a benefit.

Some writers will also offer up time to work for non-profit/charitable groups. No cash, but maybe some karma points if that’s your bag. For example, I have written for Greyhound Rescue NSW and Share the Dignity because both charities are close to my heart and are non-profit groups. I see it as a form of volunteering.

Other writers will work for products if the value is worthwhile. If you’re a PR type reading this, please note, when you offer bloggers a “free” product worth like $10 in exchange for a review, many of us laugh and laugh before we say no to you. You’re asking for time to try the product, take pics, write it up and promote it. This is several hours work. I’ve seen offers like this in exchange for a packet of kid’s snacks, a single bottle of olive oil, a block of cheese or a bottle of body wash. NOPE. You, or the company you represent, is taking the mickey.


Business vs. blog?

Guest posts on other blogs generally aren’t making the host any money. It’s more about building quality backlinks, expanding your own audience and building relationships. If you’re looking to drive traffic to a website to make money off it, you’ll want quality content to encourage people to visit your site. And quality content isn’t something you should expect for free. No one can pay their bills in “exposure” and if your business website is a new one, chances are that any exposure you can offer is minimal anyway. Even if you’re pretty sure your business will take off and your site will have heaps of traffic, you have to consider that you’re then offering to “pay” people in possible future exposure. Something that has no value now and might not even exist later on!

Free content is contentious!

Discussions about writing for free get heated. Some people (me) argue that it is an exploitative business practice and that if you “don’t have a budget” or at least something of value to exchange for the service, you probably should reconsider asking. Others say that it’s up to the individual and that arguing against writing for free is mean because it makes the person asking for free work feel bad.


If we’re going to get all philosophical about it, sure, everything we do is an individual decision. But should we pretend that our decisions are made in a vacuum? Because as long as people agree to work for nothing, others will ask for and expect it. Whether it’s a well-liked boss on a building site or a person with an online business doesn’t really matter.

Whatever the work is, it has value or no one would be seeking it out. When we agree to work for a business without payment, we are letting them devalue our time and efforts. This might not be the intention, but it is often the result. Promises of “exposure” rarely amount to much.

Supporting women.

Wait, what? What has this issue got to do with women, specifically?

Quite a bit, actually. I’m not a huge fan of seeing women exploited. Whether it’s unpaid overtime, working their guts out for next to nothing in MLM schemes or writing content for “possible future exposure”, it’s not okay.

Women in Australia already perform the bulk of unpaid labour in this country. Our economy literally depends on it. Women are providing the majority of the unpaid childcare, the unpaid caring for adults who need it and volunteering, not to mention shouldering the bulk of the domestic workload. If we add other valuable services, where does it end?

I speak against it not to shame anyone who has done unpaid work or requested unpaid work, but to offer another, perhaps broader, perspective. Supporting women, to me, means valuing their contributions and paying them adequately for their efforts. Not utilising a woman’s unpaid work to build our own successes.

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