I recently ran across an advice column that dealt with a fairly common employment scenario: a volunteer not getting the job when the position became
I recently ran across an advice column that dealt with a fairly common employment scenario: a volunteer not getting the job when the position became paid. This from Dear Prudence in Slate:
“The job has been restructured as an executive director/development director–my dream job. I applied and interviewed. The search committee recognized my expertise. They acknowledged my work over the past months, taking the lead on marketing… I was not offered the job. I am stunned, given my proven track record.”
Funny, I would have been stunned if the letter writer HAD been offered the job, because a fundamental law of working in a capitalist system is the value of your work is equal to whatever compensation you’ll accept to do it.
Some people find this concept difficult to grasp because they’re convinced that they’re underpaid. However, nobody is ever underpaid because, barring slavery, you’ve agreed to accept that amount.
If you don’t like how much you’re paid, you can quit, you can lobby for an increase in the minimum wage, or your can attempt to join or form a trade union. But if you’ll accept, say, $7.25 an hour, that’s exactly what your labor is worth.
In the case of the letter writer, she worked for free, which established a value for her labor of $0 per hour. Asking the organization to pay money for that same labor simply isn’t reasonable.
For whatever reason, they want the job done differently (or they would have let the letter writer volunteer forever) and they’re willing to pay somebody else to do it–establishing the value of that person’s labor at whatever salary they’ll accept. The “I’ve been doing a good job for free so now you should pay me” is, frankly, a silly notion.
I’ve seen the same expectations among business consultants. They’ll provide services for free in order to “get their foot in the door” and then are surprised when the “customer” balks at the idea of paying for a service that previously cost nothing.
My favorite example of this is from first episode of the TV show Girls. The main character, after working for months as an unpaid intern, tells her boss that she can no longer afford to work for free. His response is classic: “Well, we’ll miss you!”
There is a way around this problem. I know a lawyer who, like all lawyers, gets asked for free legal advice. He’s happy to provide it but then invoices the “client” and stamps “complimentary” on the invoice. This approach guarantees that such requests are kept to a minimum and makes certain that his services aren’t effectively devalued.
The same principle operates when customers “tack on” additional tasks to a service you’re providing at a fixed cost.
A friend of mine recently complained that he’d been paid up front to animate 16 minutes of video. The materials provided, however, comprised 24 minutes of animation. He expected his client to volunteer to pay him another 50 percent for the additional work.
I had to explain that if he did 24 minutes for that fixed fee, he was voluntarily accepting a 33 percent pay cut. Fortunately, he hadn’t done the work yet, so I explained how to gracefully demand the additional money. Here’s the script I gave him:
“I’d love to be able to do that amount of work for what you paid me but I just can’t afford that. So we have two choices: cut the project back to 16 minutes or arrange for another payment. Which approach works for you?”
I haven’t heard back from my friend (we had the conversation last Sunday night) but I expect he’ll get the extra money (about $3,000). So that’s good. But… pop quiz: what was my advice worth? The correct answer: $0, because I provided the advice for free.
Published on: Jan 17, 2020
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