Does Friendship Require Giving Free Services To Friends?
A couple is often asked for free services by friends who don’t want to pay professionals.
My husband and I have been semi-retired for about five years. Both of us do some freelance work here and there, enough to keep us busy when we're not enjoying hobbies, traveling, or spending time with the kids.
My husband, an architect, is often asked by friends and family members if he can design new additions for their houses or do home renovation drawings for them—almost always as a favor, without payment.
They seem to think that he has all the time in the world and that he doesn't need to be paid. They don't realize how much time and work is involved, nor do they understand the responsibility he takes for creating signed drawings for their free projects.
My husband isn't looking for extra work or more things to keep busy. He retired for a reason.
When he tries to refer these friends to working architects who charge a fee, they always tell him they can't afford to pay anyone. In other words, they want it for free, and they are hurt if my husband declines.
I'm in a similar situation at times. Since I do freelance public relations work, friends often ask me to proofread their press releases (as a favor) or do some pro bono writing or editing for them.
I would never ask a retired professional or tradesperson to provide free services to me just because we are friends or family. It would be great if you could address this topic and give us some tips on how to politely decline these requests to work for free.
Work for hire or work for free?
Wouldn’t life be grand if we could get professional work given to us without paying a penny?
Imagine how much money we could save without paying for things like landscaping, house cleaning, haircuts, tutoring, piano lessons, dental work, or private jets.
Okay, we may be getting carried away here, but you get our drift.
Sticky situations like these can make anyone feel uncomfortable. But clearly, substituting “non-paid work” for “paid employment” isn’t a sensible retirement plan for anyone. You’ve earned this season of your life. And, as you’ve written, you’re both happily retired and not seeking moonlight opportunities in your former career.
The next time you’re faced with a “Can you do this for me?” dilemma, try this:
Remind yourself that you have every right to say NO. You are not obligated to take on work for free for anyone. Be clear and unequivocal in turning down their request. Explain that it’s a time commitment you can’t afford to make and that you routinely turn down requests like this.
Explain that after many years of active work, you and your husband have made a conscious decision—and commitment to one another—to slow down to pursue your hobbies and spend more time with your family and each other.
You might add that you’re flattered they admire your work. Tell them you’d be happy to suggest a talented “someone else for the job.” If they respond that they can’t afford that person, tell them that under the circumstances, they may need to reconsider taking on such a costly project.
Remind them that your decision shouldn’t be construed as a reflection of your feelings for them, but that you must preserve your retirement decision.
It’s possible your friends don’t realize how much time it would take you to fill their request. It’s okay to let them know you wouldn’t be fair to them in saying yes since you couldn’t give them the job they deserve, simply because it’s way too time-consuming.
Of course, if the relationship is close and it is truly a “small” favor that entails minimal effort and time, you may want to help.
But be sure to draw boundaries and turn down requests for free services that don’t feel comfortable.
Irene & Sheryl
Friendship doesn’t have to include providing free professional services.
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