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No one should have to work for free

2 min read


SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Sustainability — tracks feedback from more than 17,000 CSR leaders. We run the poll question each Wednesday in our e-newsletter. This week’s analysis is provided by Aman Singh, senior editor of corporate responsibility at

Last week we asked: It’s summer, which means interns have invaded offices. What is your company’s policy on interns?

  • All of our interns are paid a summer stipend: 62.5%
  • We don’t hire interns: 25%
  • We believe that gaining operational experience in exchange for hard work is a fair bargain: 7.81%
  • We offer academic credit since we mostly work with colleges to place them: 4.69%
  • Our interns are reimbursed for commuting and food: 0%

With almost 63% of you paying interns a stipend or more, things are clearly on the mend. Years ago when I was in journalism school, asking for any compensation meant giving up on much-coveted internship slots. We were thankful to just get in, and if we did get the occasional free cup of coffee or lunch, it was a great day.

But it isn’t all good news. While a quarter of you don’t hire interns, the rest (roughly 13%) do but don’t compensate them, with almost 5% offering academic credit and almost 8% believing in the power of experience over a paycheck. Here’s the thing: While the benefits of experience are indeed invaluable, it is your responsibility to pay interns for their work. Does “working for free” or paying out of your pockets for these internships (academic credit) sync with the entrepreneurial tradition of this country — or your personal ethos? And mind you, this is not an HR problem alone. As executives, decision-makers and mentors, you can directly impact these practices for the better because no one should have to work for free. No one.