After Hours

TechRepublic members sound off about support favors

IT support professionals are often bombarded with requests for favors from family, friends, and coworkers. Find out how your fellow TechRepublic members handle this touchy issue without sacrificing their free time or making everyone angry with them.

In Response offers a weekly roundup of feedback from TechRepublic members intended to help inform you and your peers about critical issues in the world of IT. This week, TechRepublic members share their opinions on performing support favors for friends, family, and coworkers.
How do you handle support favors?
In a recent edition of In Response, we asked TechRepublic members to give their opinions regarding support favors. Once again, we received tons of e-mail, over 300 pieces, from our members. Unfortunately, due to the volume we received, it isn't possible to publish every response. However, I believe I have presented the best balance of all the posts and e-mails below. Thank you to everyone who responded!

TechRepublic members respond…
Greg M.
“I always take care of family and my number one pals. After that, it is a pure judgment call. On the judgment calls, I always make a quick decision about the person doing the asking:

  • Are they too bothersome?
  • Are they trying to use me too badly for free?
  • How far away do they live? Is it convenient for me to stop by?
  • Can we ’barter’ anything? Is he a plumber? Is she a teacher?
  • Who are they? If it's the VP of Personnel, I'm gonna be there!

“And I will accept gifts and gratuities. As for charging, how much do you charge? Nobody has that one figured out yet. How much does an electrician or a plumber or a auto mechanic charge? Probably a lot more than you could ever charge an acquaintance, right? So, you must barter. If I decide not to go, I just say ’Gee, that sounds weird! Call this number. They are good, and they are local…’ You can't run away, so you have to handle it.”

Gena G.
“After spending four hours at a ’friend’s’ house, never being offered a glass of water, or even thanked for my work, I resolved to never again do a ’favor.’ Now when I am asked general questions, I try to refer them back to the manufacturer. Chances are they have support or are under warranty and can get help that way.”

Mathew B.
“I have been doing hardware/software support (in one form or another) for around eleven years now. Around five years ago, I started doing it full time, and that's when the ’favors‘ started. I enjoy helping people learn about computers and showing them all the fun little things you can do with them. But you have to draw the line somewhere. I still do favors for people, just not as often as I used to. I had to get a ’pusher's‘ attitude...’first one's free, you're gonna pay after that!’ Between my full-time job as my company's IT Manager, my side business of selling computers and computer services, and my family, I don't have time for as many ’favors‘ as I used to. As many other IT professionals know, job[s], family, and favors often have conflicting schedules that are often impossible to organize.

“My family, on the other hand, is a different story. Most of my family barely knows how to turn their computers on, let alone fix them if something goes wrong with them. So if I don't help them, they'll just get someone who knows even less than they do to ’fix’ the problem. Then, when that doesn't work, they call me, and I have even more problems to fix. I help my family with their problems as favors (like I would really be able to charge them), but they like to think they're paying for my services when they offer a steak dinner in exchange for me fixing their problems.”

Debbie A.
“I don't mind helping friends and neighbors. Usually, I get a very good free meal out of the deal. For coworkers and acquaintances, I try to find something to trade. For example, I set up a new PC, installing all hardware and software, for a lifetime supply of hay for my animals. If they don't have anything to trade, I don't feel bad at all about charging a reduced fee.”

Jeff W.
“I am willing to do pro bono support favors for immediate family and very close friends only; anyone beyond those people gets charged. I am also very straightforward with my family and friends about that fact so that they will tell their friends that they will be charged a fee for time used for consulting, repairs, re-installs, and so on. Time is money in the IT world. If it were to go unchecked, I would be doing free favors all day.”

Vicki L.
“I finally found a solution: barter. Yes, trade my goods and services for the goods and services offered by the user. My time is worth what I say it is, and their goods/services are worth what they believe they are. No money passes hands, but each of us is left with viable solutions and advantages in the end! (Plus, it's awfully nice to come home to a yard I didn't have to mow, and to get ’free’ construction help on my new carport!)”

Lisa C.
“For some reason, other people think I just love to be on a computer 24 hours a day, seven days a week just because I do it at work. I do want to help my friends, but I'm starting to make up excuses why I can't help them because I'm tired of being taken advantage of. My mother told me to start charging them. For some reason, I rather lie to them with an excuse of why I can't come over rather than charge them.”

Doug L.
“If it's at work, we have departmental guidelines which specify who does what on desktops. In a case where it's ’not my job,’ I try to ask the user a few polite questions to ascertain the nature of the problem and determine the responsible group to contact, then refer them to the Help Desk. Problem solved.

“If it's a personal friend outside of work, the problem is more complex. I'll always help a friend, unless and until it becomes a regular thing to call me with tech support issues. If I get too many calls from someone, I show them where they can find paid help.”
Thanks to everyone who responded to this In Response! Are there topics you'd like to see discussed in future editions of In Response? Let us hear about it. Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.

About Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

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