How can I prevent people from asking me for unpaid work?


Reader: After my retirement, I started volunteering for a non-profit organization while completing a master’s degree in a related field. I loved the organization and have volunteered in multiple aspects of their service offerings, learning about the job to improve my job prospects once I complete my degree program. Work fills me with satisfaction.

At the end of my studies, the organization offered me to join the staff as a contract worker, paid on a fee-for-service basis in reimbursements that seemed reasonable to me. I am paid from various budgets managed by people with whom I have volunteered.

My dilemma is that volunteer leaders and staff often ask me to do certain things that I did when I was a volunteer, in the hope that I will continue to do so without being paid. When I explain my new role, people are repelled, confused, frustrated that my efforts may detract from their budgets; or they keep pushing for my free labor.

I’ve been in the new arrangement for three months, and no one can give me direction on how to handle this. The main boss made a brief announcement to clarify during a staff meeting. A few people threw me big plans and paid me quickly. But others keep asking me if I’m available “without my new professional title”. My line art is getting awkward, and these are people I’ve volunteered with for years. Thoughts? Tips?

Karla: I can offer you endless variations on “My role here has changed so I’m only doing paid contract work now”, but that wouldn’t solve the problem of people refusing to understand you.

To be fair, you may need to set firmer boundaries in your mind before you can expect others to respect them. You say the organization has asked you to “join the staff as a contractor”. But this role does not exist. That is you have joined the staff – a full employee with all rights, benefits and obligations, including the performance of additional tasks without additional remuneration – Where you are a contract worker, paid by the project.

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I understand that this is an organization you “love”, with fulfilling work. But you’re probably not even giving the humans you love unlimited access to your time, money, and energy.

Maybe you feel obligated because this organization gave you the opportunity to learn more about their work while you graduated. Counterpoint: you basically prepaid them in free labor for the opportunity to turn you into their ideal candidate. And I’m willing to bet your fees are still a bargain compared to an equally experienced salesperson.

You may feel like you are suddenly leaving people who depended on you. But this is a business hazard for organizations that rely on donations and volunteers: when volunteer work is insufficient, they must decide how to stretch their limited dollars to do the essential work that no one is available or willing to do. do it for free. Of course, volunteer work is always needed and welcome, which may be why managers don’t draw a bolder line against people who harass you.

POV: Is it legal to fire a part-time worker and then bring her back as an unpaid volunteer?

Even though you’d gladly continue doing the work for nothing, think of it this way: by spending time and energy on unpaid work, you’re doing a disservice to the people who value your work enough to pay for it. They get what they pay for. This sense of obligation should make it easier for you to refuse by saying, “I wish I could, but I’m under contract to do a project for [paying co-worker]’s group. Eventually, they’ll realize that the key to getting on your to-do list is paying you for your time.

If the paid projects you undertake for this organization give you enough free time that you feel guilty about turning down volunteer requests, you can always fill that time with paid contract work for other organizations. Or not. The point is, you’ve more than earned the right to spend your time the way you want.

Let me share an anecdote that might help clarify things further. After receiving a year of Disney Plus video streaming for free, I was informed that I had to start paying for the service if I wanted to continue using it. No amount of anger, frustration, or pleading “It’s for the kids” would make a difference, so I made room in my budget for that.

Start thinking of yourself as a service provider. Even though you are retired, and even though you supported this worthy organization for free, the terms of your contract have changed. To say it with words that everything reasonable person would understand: the free trial is over.

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