What does it mean to work for free?

22 Apr 2013

Jeff Haden’s post on Linkedin about why you should always do a little work for free got me thinking.  Generally I agree with his suggestion that working for free may give you opportunities to stretch yourself and be scared in a way that paid work may not.  I also think he has a point that ‘doing the right thing’ and being thanked for it can feel good.  Personally though, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of giving as a transaction – ‘I am doing this work for free in order that I may get something in return (even if it’s just feeling good about myself)’.

When I set up my consulting business, I came up with a set of seven values that I wanted to form the basis of the way I operate.  Some of these are personal to me, and so I won’t share them here, but the sixth was ‘I will give away 5% of my time and 10% of my profits without expectation of a return’.   For me, that last phrase was the key point.  I don’t choose to give away my time and profits because I believe I’ll get some benefit in return, because really that isn’t giving them away at all.  I do it because I believe it is the right thing for a socially responsible business to do, and that if more businesses (and people) did the same then the world would be a better place.  Maybe this will do me some good personally (and the work of Dr Adam Grant suggests it might), and maybe it won’t, but I’ll do it anyway.  And before I start to worry about whether it’s actually possible to be truly unselfish, I shall turn my attention to my seventh value: ‘I will have fun!’