Once upon a time it was fairly easy to work out how much your labour was worth. You would toil in the fields all day and at the end of it have enough to keep body and soul together for that one day. Then the next day you’d have to start over again. If you were luck you got to have one day a week off.
Then came the time when it was possible to work for others and get some kind of recompense, either in kind or in money. You would work hard for the week and end up with just enough to keep you and the family in food and with a roof over your head. If you were lucky there might be a bit over to save for a rainy day, or spend on a leisure pursuit (like drinking beer!).
But now, these connections don’t seem to make as much sense. There is not necessarily any clear relationship between effort and reward, or time spent on the job and recompense, or value of your work for society as a whole and the enormous bonus you receive at the end of each year.
How then do we value our time and our work? Last week I discussed some of the factors that need to be taken into account when setting the fee for choir or workshop attendance. One of those factors is the financial situation of the workshop leader. If this is your sole source of income, then at the end of the year it all needs at add up to a sum which at least covers your living expenses. If you’re lucky you might end up with a bit over to save for a rainy day (or spend on beer!). But what if the market can bear higher fees? What if other workshops cost much more than yours? Are you justified in charging the same amount just because you can, even though you don’t need the money?
For my part, I won’t go down that path. I take into consideration what other people charge, but I won’t increase my fees just because I can. Maybe I’m stupid and should be living the life of Riley and working much less, but it seems morally wrong to me.
A colleague some years ago who worked freelance in theatre told me about a formula he had arrived at which seems rather neat. The income he required for one day’s work needed to be enough to cover all his living costs for two days. That is, it would cover his costs for the day he was working, plus one additional day would be his for ‘free’. That extra day could be used for leisure, research, preparation, relaxation, whatever. It makes a lot of sense to me since those ‘extra’ days are the ones we need to keep our sanity and to refresh us so that we can do our jobs properly.