Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Work and Reciprocity

I've been struggling with the issue of reciprocity for a while, but had been unable to label it as such until this morning. Reciprocity is a key ingredient in many significant relationships, including marriage and friendship. And in the workplace reciprocity affects both those employed as employees and those who are self-employed.

What is reciprocity? Reciprocity is sometimes described as negotiations between equals, sometimes as tit-for-tat, sometimes as mutual actions. I'm not sure reciprocity needs to be between equals, but it does need to involve action of some sort on both sides.

When we work for money, we operate under an implicit (and sometimes explicit) contract. We do work according to certain rules and, in turn, are paid. Many work disagreements occur when parts of this contract are violated: rules are broken, work isn't done, and payment isn't given.

I'm currently in a work funk, and think part of the reason is the lack of reciprocity afforded to the freelancer. For example, if I don't respond to an email within a few hours, I'm sent another email to confirm receipt of the first one. Not every client does this, but enough do to keep me busy.

But let's say I happen to send an email first with a question. Often I hear no response at all, as if the client has decided it wasn't important or they forwarded it to someone who didn't respond. Who knows. But if everyone in the world responds to my emails except for certain clients, and if other freelancers have the exact same problem, then I think it's not necessarily me. It's an issue of expectations and reciprocity.

A much larger issue has to do with getting paid. But I simply can't go there now without having to engage in deep breathing for the rest of the afternoon.

No unsolicited advice please. This isn't that sort of a post.