How Do I Quit Working For A Friend and Stay Friends
April 11, 2012 2:03 PM   Subscribe

How do I tell a friend I can't work as much for them anymore without really harming the friendship?

For a couple of years now, I have been doing a few hours per week of work for a friend in exchange for free *foo* (this has never really been a straight exchange, since I have done way more work than received *foo* over the years, but since I enjoy the work, I have never complained about this and don't intend to start now - I mention this only to make it clear that I am not reneging on my part of the agreement). I no longer need/want *foo* to the extent I once did, my life has become pretty hectic of late, and I no longer want to do as much of this work (even though I generally enjoy it, the time commitment is just too much now). At this point, I am not only working for free (while my friend profits from my work, as this is their for-profit business I am performing the work for), I suppose I am actually PAYING to work, since I have to transport myself to and from the business and gas ain't cheap! I like my friend and I do not want to end the friendship, but I want to cut back my work by at least 2/3. AskMe, how should I approach this? (said friend is somewhat unpredictably prickly and emotional)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Don't make it about the *foo* or about the transportation cost. Simply tell your friend what you've told us here: your life has changed, the time commitment is a bit much, and you need to cut back significantly (stop entirely?) on the hours.

Express that you want to support your friend and their business by figuring out to make this transition as smooth as possible, and tell them you don't want this to affect the friendship in any way.

Then make some non work related plans to hang out soon, and have some fun with them.
posted by Specklet at 2:10 PM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can't help you with the "unpredictably prickly and emotional" part, except to say that you're absolutely being reasonable, and if they're likely to take issue with that...well, then they weren't being much of a friend, they were just taking advantage of you.

So, something simple like "[friend], we have to talk; our arrangement has really worked well for both of us, but lately my life has gotten crazy-hectic, and I need to simplify. I sat down and figured out that doing this work for you is taking a lot of my time, and money because I need to commute, so I want to bring our work arrangement to a close. I don't want to leave you in the lurch, so consider this my [some time frame] notice, and let me know if there's anything I can do to help make the transition easier."
posted by davejay at 2:11 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

So, one thing to keep in mind, if your goal is to stop doing this work without hurting your friendship, then make very, very sure you don't make it sound like you were working for free, or that you were paying to work. Based on the information you wrote here, you had an agreement to work for a specified reward, you did the work, then you were paid as promised. It may not be profitable, but you were paid for work. It would annoy and insult even a non-prickly person in that position if you framed it as though it were charity, or things had been unfair to you.

I would just say this: "my life has become pretty hectic of late, and I no longer want to do as much of this work (even though I generally enjoy it, the time commitment is just too much now". That should be all you need to say.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:13 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are they counting on you to do x or y? For instance, are you the only one who knows how to do a certain thing? If so you might want to discuss how you can transition that role to someone else without leaving them in the lurch.

If that's not the case, I think you can just say "Hey, Friend, I really enjoy this work but lately some of my other commitments have become more demanding and I'm finding that I'm stretched too thin. I need to cut back on my hours. I can be here Friday afternoons or Monday mornings, what works better?"

She may get prickly but any reasonable person should realize that you have the right to make that call.
posted by bunderful at 2:16 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with all of the advice above, but also you should treat the situation like any other job where you would not want to burn bridges - ie, give two weeks notice, or agree to complete whatever is already in process, so that your friend isn't suddenly left in the lurch and scrambling to figure out how to get that work done.
posted by vignettist at 2:17 PM on April 11, 2012

I would just explain that I'm busy and don't have much time to help them out anymore.... leaving the door open for them to offer you an actual paid position instead of... wtf is *foo* anyhway? is that a euphamism for sex or something?
posted by myShanon at 2:23 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is the kind of situation wherein if a person flips out at you, then that person is not actually your friend. With that in mind, I would just say "hey, I'm really busy these days and I don't have time to do X any more. I'll let you know if things calm down again."
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:24 PM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Foo is just a placeholder, like X or Y. It is not a euphemism for sex, as far as I know.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:25 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I'm reading this correctly, this person is not your friend and will probably drop you once you stop being useful to them.

Be prepared. The fact that you are walking on eggshells trying to figure out how to gracefully "quit" a job you don't get compensated for should tell you EVERYTHING about how this will turn out.

You're not stupid, but this whole thing isn't based on fairness or respect, so I'm not sure why you are expecting it to be different. The terms you've previously found acceptable, while agreeable to your "friend," would make most decent people uncomfortable. Your "friend" is emotional and prickly? I suggest this person is also somewhat greedy and self-absorbed, and you should not expect this person to magically start treating you as an equal once you quit working for them for free.

In other words, don't tie yourself in knots searching for the right words, this is probably going to turn sour once you quit because that's how it is designed.

Just stop working for free and don't worry about the rest. You can't control this other person's reaction, in any event.

Be polite, efficient, and end it.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 2:28 PM on April 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

Yeah, the only way to handle this is directly. You don't have the time or inclination to work for free, and you have to either significantly decrease the time you spend or you need to work out a better compensation framework than the free foo that you do not want or need.

(incidentally, for those who don't know: foobar)
posted by ndfine at 2:39 PM on April 11, 2012

jbenben's assessment might be a bit harsh. Or it might not be. It's worth thinking about.

If this is a friend that you spend time with outside of work/project, then ending the project won't end the friendship. Otherwise, this person is basically a coworker, so think of it as if the question were about staying in touch with office friendships after you quit a normal 9-5 job.
It may have started as a friendship but if your relationship is now essentially a coworker that you really enjoy hanging out with, and you do your work together while you socialize and have a good time, then you'll need to put some effort in, but you stand a good chance; there's a "good-times-socializing" gap you'll both be wanting to fill. If what started out as a friendship is now essentially a business relationship, if you only talk to this person about work, if you make polite chit-chat while working with them but it's not a conversation you'd enjoy having over a beer on a Saturday night, then this person is now part of your professional network, not your buddy any more. Accept that, and let it go - don't try to "hold on" to the friendship if that aspect of the relationship actually ended a while ago.

Of if they're truly your friend, then be honest but not blunt (I agree, don't let any resentment show by mentioning "working for free" "costs me gas to work" "not using my share of "foo" anyway", etc) and everything should come out fine. Give them some notice to make sure they don't NEED you for work, give them a month after you quit to adjust to not having you around and get over their gripes about work, then call them up and invite them to do something friendly.
posted by aimedwander at 2:46 PM on April 11, 2012

My answer is predicated on the assumption that the business owner is aware the OP shows up and works, but is not taking the *foo* in return.
posted by jbenben at 2:49 PM on April 11, 2012

"How to have the talk" seems covered. One additional suggestion: it can help the transition immensely if you can refer her to a couple of people who do this type of work for a living, so she can replace you with someone else. Assuming, since she profits from this, that she can pay them in money rather than "foo."
posted by evilmomlady at 3:26 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Unfortunately at the moment my other commitments don't give me enough time to continue with x. Sorry!"
posted by mleigh at 3:31 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is somewhere between volunteer work and a paid position. In both cases you are 100% free to say you can't spare the time for it anymore. You can quit a job, you can scale back your volunteering commitments, and nobody has any grounds for holding it against you.

If you're afraid your friend will go "GRAR! Nobody makes a perfectly reasonable professional adjustment with me and gets away with it!" that in itself suggests to me that yeah, maybe they're not so much a "friend" as an "exploiter". But hey, maybe this is your hangup and they'll just go, "we sure will miss you, anonymous. Here, have some extra foo on your way out."

If they do freak, though, feel free to get your harsh on because there's no way that would be reasonable.
posted by tel3path at 3:45 PM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd try to frame this in a way that honors your time together thus far. This will especially work if you're reaching a good stopping point. "I wanted to talk to you. I have really enjoyed or time together working on Bar. But as I look at my spring and summer plans, I am unfortunately going to have to take a step back. I wish I had more time, as Bar is such a good project. Can you believe how far you've brought it since the days we were doing our accounting on an abacus? It has been a pleasure to be a small part of that. And I will really miss all the free Foo. I don't want to leave you in the lurch, so I was thinking or last day could be __, and I can help you find a new person. Then we should go out for drinks and celebrate or great days of Foo and Bar."
posted by salvia at 7:01 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been in this exact situation with a relative recently. I decided to have 'the talk' with her. Everything came out badly worded. We were both hurt for a day. I told her I was sorry I just wanted her to know how I felt, she told me she was sorry she couldn't pay me what I was worth. I told her I would never leave her stranded, even if she couldn't pay me, but that it was important for her to know what I was going through.

You get the idea.

In the end, it worked out extremely well. She's agreed to pay me a set (albeit lower than market) amount and I agreed to do (x and y) for her each month. A lot of stress taken out of the equation. And when she asks me to do something that we did not agree to, she knows she has to pay me more. No more "oh, by the way" stuff.

I imagine a friend would understand in the same way. No one wants to KNOWINGLY take advantage of their friends. But it becomes really easy when nothing is written down. And when you call them on it, it is going to cause a certain amount of strife. Not because they don't value you but because they're in denial/disbelief.

I also second everyone in saying that you will be willing to assist in the transition wherever possible up until x date. It's kind of like a friend staying on your couch. You never want to see them on the streets, but you want your couch back.
posted by one4themoment at 9:00 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was an observer recently when Free Foo lady had this exact conversation with you (or You-Foo), it did not go well.

Foo lady had been telling me for a few months now how awesome You-Foo was, how helpful and that she's been feeling a bit like she had been taking advantage of You-Foo.

well You-Foo pitched up one-day and said very much what has been said above and she got really defensive, I suspect because of the guilt feelings she'd been harbouring, and went on the verbal attack. It was painful.

Now You-Foo won't take her calls or emails to apologise as is only right.

my 2c worth is to send a light e-mail with what has been sent above and then if you want a friendly relationship to continue say you'll see them for coffee sometime to see how they're doing with replacement You-Foo.
posted by Wilder at 5:41 AM on April 12, 2012

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