What to Do When Internship Becomes Slavery

Unpaid internships are a rite-of-passage of sorts that—hopefully—will lead to a rewarding full-time career in your chosen field. But even if that dream job doesn’t happen after completing an internship, such arrangements have peripheral benefits that can make your resume a well-rounded piece of application document—one that will attract plenty of hiring managers from different companies and industries. The hands-on learning that internship affords can lead to invaluable training and experiences that make all the difference between a middling and successful work life.

However, the road toward internship is long and riddled with many challenges and obstacles. Not to mention, the risk of exploitation is high. Ever seen ‘Pursuit of Happiness?’ That could be you, slaving away at an unpaid internship. In times of desperation, you may soon begin to doubt your decision and ask yourself: Is the slave treatment you’re receiving really worth it?

Before you make any hasty decisions, considering your internship expectations, however, you must first confirm that your internship has indeed turned into slavery. Check out these three signs, especially if this is your first internship.

• Your work hours have become abusive – working inconvenient hours are part-and-parcel of any job, but if your internship project makes you work overtime all the time without pay, or put you on lengthy bouts of ‘cloping’ (when you have a closing shift followed by an opening shift), you can end up physically and emotionally drained.

• No vacations allowed – without having any time for yourself, your internship could destroy any semblance of fun in your life.

• Your bosses scare you – slavemasters make their workers live in fear to control them. They know exactly how to generate feelings of shame, guilt, panic and anxiety. When they issue their commands, verbal and psychological abuse is what usually occurs.

Do these circumstances sound familiar? If these conditions permeate in your internship, it’s time to put an end to your dire situation once and for all.

1. Start by evaluating how much your internship has affected you personally

Burnout occurs when you’ve lost all sense of identity and meaning in your job. Ask yourself these questions:

• Do feel drained of physical or emotional energy?

• Do you harbor negative thoughts about your job?

• Do you feel inadequate at work?

• Do you feel you work hard as a horse?

• Do you find that you do not have time to plan as much as you would like to?

If you answer yes to all of these, then burnout has set in, and you need to work on making it go away, soon.

2. Identify specific causes of your stress/burnout

To eliminate your negative feelings about your internship, it is imperative to know what’s causing them. Is it the lack of pay? Abusive work hours? A slavemaster boss? Unfortunately, there is no one description and treatment of causes of burnout and stress, but there are ways that you can identify the reasons and work on their elimination. Confirm if…

• …you hate your work – if you feel no love for work and dread to wake up in the morning, burnout is soon to follow.

• …your job is overly demanding – work requires energy, but if your manager or the work itself demands more than you can handle, even if you have a passion for your job, burnout will eventually come.

• …the company is poorly organized – there is a popular saying that goes: “Employees don't leave companies, they leave managers.” When there is little to no organization at work, or if your boss is a slavemaster by trade, all these lead to work burnout.

3. Realize the consequences of slaving at work

Burnout can lead to the death of a career. When you’re over-stressed, you could begin to feel lazy. You end up breaking deadlines and submitting incomplete projects, which can result in you getting rebuked or even fired. You may even start to behave negatively toward people at work and even those in your personal life. Soon, you may even feel depressed and act very violently. These are things that you do not want to happen.

4. Start developing a plan toward overcoming your slavery

Your internship should be beneficial to both you and the company. When those benefits only skew to one side, it’s time to take measures to beat the system.

• Build strong social networks – Having a strong relationship with your colleagues can provide you with the emotional support you need for when the pressure gets most intense. Working with people you trust can help you overcome episodes of stress and anxiety, and perhaps see your internship through.

• Make sure to take time out and unwind – Your work may be your passion, but it won’t do you any good if it keeps you from having a life. Set a limit on your working hours, and don’t push yourself too hard. Take some time to relax and pamper yourself to get your mind off from work.

• Don’t forget the power of conversation – It’s easy to assume that your bosses are intentionally making your life a living hell, but there’s the possibility that they aren’t even aware of it. Having a one-on-one conversation and letting them know how you feel about work can solve your issues faster and help you establish a more personal rapport. Take the time to have proper discussions with your boss. It could be the only thing you need to do to improve your situation at work.

• Know your limits – Showing your ability to manage pressures and responsibilities is always amiable but taking on more than you can handle is detrimental not only to your work but also to your personal wellbeing. Know the limits of your abilities to make sure that you are always performing your best, and also to avoid stress and burnout in the long run. If you can’t handle anymore, don’t be afraid to admit it. There’s no shame in quitting what is ultimately destroying your life.

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