OK… I’m thinking this through as I type, so please excuse the stream-of-consciousness nature of this post.
Someone suggested earlier today that people who do voluntary committee work for organisations or clubs shouldn’t use their positions to earn money – for example, if they’re asked to organise an event and that organisation performs at the event, they shouldn’t be paid. Angry words followed this suggestion, and it’s been bugging me ever since.
Why am I blogging about this at all? What does it have to do with my writing or my career in the writing industry? Bear with me, I hope you’ll see my point by the time I’ve finished. For now, you’ll have to trust me that there are important principles at stake here.
This is going to be hard to follow, as (for obvious reasons) I can’t go into any details. Bear with me.
Issue number 1 – let’s get this out of the way
The first issue I want to raise is that the example given to support the suggestion was wrong (assuming I’ve identified the correct example, the person who started this discussion (I’ll call them Person T from now on) refused to elucidate on this (and on many other points)). On that occasion, the person asked to programme the event (Person N) was hired in their capacity as ‘someone who can programme events’, rather than ‘someone on the committee of the organisation in question’ (Org O). The fact that Person N decided to include people from Org O in the event is surely to Org O‘s benefit, and not to Person N‘s benefit? Person N was, after all, going to be paid anyway, and could have completely ignored Org O when programming the event.
Issue number 2 – where it gets complicated
The second issue is that even if Person T was correct in their assumption that Person N was hired in their capacity as an Org O committee member, are they correct in their assertion that Person N shouldn’t be paid for their work in programming the event?
There are three cases that we need to consider:
- Person N doesn’t have the skills to do the job.
- Person N is an active committee member and has the skills to do the job.
- Person N is an inactive committee member and has the skills to do the job.
If Person N doesn’t have the skills necessary to carry out the work, they should not be paid for doing that work, whatever the reason they were hired. Again, I don’t see a problem specifically with hiring Person N because they are on Org O‘s committee. This is irrelevant. The problem is that they can’t do the job.
If Person N is someone who does a lot of voluntary work to support the activities of Org O and does not begrudge their time and energy, I don’t see a problem with them being paid for a specific piece of work they are hired for, even if one of the reasons they are hired is that they are on Org O‘s committee. As long as whoever does that piece of work would be paid, and Person N has the skills necessary to carry out the work, what’s the problem?
Chances are, if Person N is known as someone who does a lot of useful work for Org O, they’re more likely to be asked to do the job. Would anyone reasonable see this as unfair ‘reward’? I think not.
The remaining case gives me pause for thought. If Person N is someone who turns up at committee meetings but does nothing else to support Org O‘s activities, and is given the job purely because they are on Org O‘s committee, but… coincidentally they happen to have the skills to do the job… then I don’t think it’s fair for them to get the job simply because of their position, purely because it seems wrong that they should be ‘rewarded’ for doing nothing.
On the other hand…
I could be wrong to think it’s unfair.
If you have the skills to do a job, and you do that job, and that job is a paid job, you should be paid for it. So the question is whether you should get the job in the first place. (yes, I know I’ve more or less already said this, but I’m just getting it straight in my head.) Several points come to mind.
- If you’re known as someone who does not contribute to activites of Org O despite being on the committee, are you likely to be asked to do the job? Probably not. So the situation isn’t likely to arise.
- The reasons for asking someone to take on a job are many and varied, and I would argue they are inherently unfair anyway. For example, I was involved in recruiting programmers for many years, and believe me, interview technique is not a predictor of job performance. So as long as someone who can do the job is recruited, shouldn’t that be a Good Thing?
- Why shouldn’t someone who needs a job doing assume that Person N‘s voluntary involvement in Org O is a positive qualification for the job? After all, much committee activity happens below the surface, so the recruiter might not know that Person N is inactive.
So again, is there really a problem?
On the other hand… (yes, I’ve got three hands. In fact, I’ve got as many as I need when I’m arguing with myself.)
If Person N gives themselves the job without the agreement of Org O‘s governing body (which, in its turn, must be satisfied that Person N is the right and best person for the job), this counts as exploitation of their position. In that case, and only in that case, do I think there has been a violation of reasonable and fair standards of behaviour.
I’ve just about convinced myself that Person T‘s assumptions and assertions are, for the most part, invalid.
And… surely it’s stupid to refuse to pay (or even worse, refuse to employ) people who are competent simply because they actively (or inactively) are on the committee of a related organisation? If we go down that route, there are two (by no means mutually exclusive) possibilities:
- Competent people won’t do voluntary work for fear they will not be able to make a living.
- There will be few (if any) competent people available to do paid jobs.
We don’t want either of those, do we?
I feel better for having got that off my ample bosom. Thanks for bearing with me.
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