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Help Wanted, Help Yourself

August 16, 2013

There are several lessons from this, though it’s mostly an example of people taking advantage of other people’s enthusiasm in a semi-innocent way.  Go read the whole thing:

Facebook’s second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg faced a backlash on her free-content network after the Lean In organisation she founded advertised for an unpaid intern with “social chops”.

Sandberg, the author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, makes a lot of noise about how women should follow in her footsteps and get involved in the corporate world to earn tonnes of cash.

But that didn’t stop spin-off organisation LeanIn.org’s editor Jessica Bennett publicly shaming the outfit by posting an ad on Facebook for a job that, given Sandberg’s estimated $400m wealth, absurdly comes without a salary attached to the vacancy.

The explanation offered is that lots of people want to volunteer for the organization, and Ms. Bennett was just asking for help from that vast sea of enthusiasm.  But that’s the problem.  Young people these days, as always, have a ton of ambition for things that are interesting to them.  The volunteer organizations are finding ways to tap that, and the lack of desire for a payday makes it easier.

It’s strange, in some ways.  When I was a kid, I found ways to get people to give me something nominal for my work, and it fit their need for a service.  Modern regulations make it much harder to just pay someone to do work, especially if it drags on.  So volunteerism goes up.  But now many organizations are finding ways to take advantage of that momentum, and they don’t have a story without free stuff.

This example isn’t even the worst, I’m sure.  It’s just getting picked because it has a nice whiff of hypocrisy.  But in the end, the new generation isn’t being told that ambition comes with reward, and it makes me concerned for the future of business.

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