Why Working for Free is Like Sleep

You’ve undoubtedly seen it by now; Stephen Silver’s [necessary] rant against working for free, right? If not, it’s a good use of your time, and advice well worth heeding. The only problem with it is that Stephen doesn’t really explain exactly why working for free can be detrimental. So here is an analogy that is easy to digest, understand and remember: why working for free is like sleep.

If Everyone Sleeps, Those That Are Awake Must Work Harder

Think about it. If everyone in a studio was sleeping, those that are awake would have to work much harder to get the work done wouldn’t they? If you consider a sleeping person as someone who is working for free (or close enough to it), then everyone around them must work that little bit harder (read: work for less) to carry them. Right? The more people that sleep, the hard those that are awake must work. The reverse is also true; the less people that sleep, the less the awake people must do. There are sound economic principles behind this concept that require too much to explain, but they are valid, and they really are true.

If you multiply it out over an entire industry, then you can see how even a small amount of sleepy people can have an effect on the majority. You may think that being only one person doesn’t make a difference, but it does.

Sleep At Home, Not At Work

If you were caught sleeping at work, you’d be fired for sure. Most people recognise this and in response, prefer to sleep at home. The same is true for our example. Sleep at home on your own time and on your own projects. Fanart is fine in moderation, but if that’s all you do, you may as well be sleeping. In this analogy, working for free at home is not considered detrimental because you are not having an influence on anyone besides yourself. Your time at home is considered your time, and if you want to sleep then, that’s OK.

Naps Are Healthy, but Don’t Dose Constantly

All this isn’t to say that sleeping (working for free) should be avoided at all costs. Working for free can be beneficial in certain circumstances, in ways such as community service, educational programs and the like. Consider these naps instead of sleeping because they can be healthy if done in moderation. You’ll feel refreshed and ready for when you have to be awake. Just be sure not to nap too much!

Sleeping Employees Are Bad For Studios Too

Yes, free labour can harm studios. Imagine if a studio had a large number of sleeping artists (with a few awake ones). While the studios undoubtedly gains the work, they lose out in other ways too. For one, all those sleeping employees warp the real amount of money that a project costs to make and that makes their accounts unrepresentative of their true financial health. That leads to problems further down the line and the ultimate result is that all the sleeping employees are forced to sleep at home anyway.

The Rule of Thumb: Only Sleep If You Can Afford To

If in doubt about whether you can sleep (work for free), consider yourself driving a car down the road. Are you going to fall asleep at the wheel, or are you going to pull over to the side of the road? It’s safer to do the latter, and other drivers will thank you for it. Remember, your career is the car, and if you fall asleep at the wheel, you’re bound to crash.


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