How much is job security worth to you?
May 4, 2009 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Taking a (big) pay cut for great benefits, job security, and potential long-term gain: worth it?

I'm currently working in IT at a small-ish company that is slowly sinking. There were recent layoffs, and the rest of us were forced to take a 15% pay cut. I'm still making enough to get by just fine, but it's unclear how long this job will last; it's only a matter of time before the company can't make payroll (really).

I've been searching for local jobs in my field, but haven't had any interest in my resume until I got a call from the local community college. The pay is miserable--a nearly-20% cut from my already-cut salary--but the benefits are fantastic. It's a faculty-level, tenure-track position with a pension, reasonably-priced medical insurance, and more than ten weeks of paid leave right from the get-go.

I could still survive on the reduced salary, and the potential for tenure in a non-teaching position is intriguing (as is all the time off, the state pension, and probability of consistent raises).

The flip side is that I'm nearly 30 and about to get married to someone just starting a not-particularly-lucrative career. Our only financial obligation is a single car payment, but we would like to own a home someday, and the pay cut would impact our ability to save. It would be a little like restarting a career without actually changing jobs.

Assuming the environment is a good fit, and the offer is made, what would you do?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
it's only a matter of time before the company can't make payroll (really).

Sounds like you'll either take this pay cut to get a great job and benefits now, now or a much bigger one and no job out of it somewhat later. Go for it.
posted by dilettante at 2:38 PM on May 4, 2009

more than ten weeks of paid leave right from the get-go

The benefits sound wonderful, and you can use some of your paid leave to pursue freelance projects which both interest you and will help alleviate the pay cut.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2009

In today's economic climate, I would totally go for it. A bird in the hand, and all that. If you didn't take it, it may be a long, long while before something like that comes again. Opportunity is knocking!

Good luck with it all.
posted by Petrot at 2:42 PM on May 4, 2009

I would go for it, especially since it appears to be only a matter of time before you lose your current job anyway. Freelance during your 10 weeks off to add to your savings coffers.
posted by scody at 2:46 PM on May 4, 2009

As dilettante said, you may not have a choice of keeping your current job in the near future. I can tell you that Mrs. Doh works for a university in an administrative capacity, and absolutely loves the atmosphere and the benefits. While she doesn't make nearly as much as she did in the private sector, she has absolutely no plans to go back. I say go for it.
posted by doh ray mii at 2:46 PM on May 4, 2009

Take the job with the paycut, enjoy the security and benefits, pursue freelance projects. It sounds like a great gig. Good luck!
posted by dabitch at 2:48 PM on May 4, 2009

In gambling terms, take the long bet. The payouts are always MUCH better in the long-run.

Plus, and this is bringing my own poo to the table, but 10 weeks of paid leave would be AMAZING. In fact: the way you worded your question sounds like you've already made up your mind, and just wanted some encouragement. To me, it's a no-brainer. Yeah, you want a house, and if you really do you WILL get one eventually.

Forest, my man... not trees here.
posted by indiebass at 2:50 PM on May 4, 2009

If the state pensio is defined benefit, that has huge value - if you stay. Some defined benefit plans allow you to retire after X years on XX% of your pay. Talk to somebody in benefites and get the skinny. Increased vaca. time is also really, really nice. I love working in higher ed. even without a defined benefit plan. They may have a deal w/ other universities that would allow you to get a(n additional) degree.
posted by theora55 at 2:50 PM on May 4, 2009

Are you me? Except my pay cut at my job is 25%.... that being said, I'm jealous. I would take that deal in a heart beat. Do it! You only live once, and you'll be kicking yourself once your paycheck starts bouncing.
posted by cgg at 3:02 PM on May 4, 2009

When you picture yourself in the new job, are you happy? Will you look forward to work each day? Do you have time for your real life outside of work? If so, go for it. Good luck!
posted by pointystick at 3:10 PM on May 4, 2009

Take it.
posted by charlesv at 3:19 PM on May 4, 2009

I wouldn't take it. I mean, with a 20% paycut, what are you even going to be able to afford to do on your ten weeks off?

And, um... which college did you say this was, again? I would like to... scold... them...
posted by McBearclaw at 3:32 PM on May 4, 2009

Money's a lot easier to find than job security and benefits - go for it!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:35 PM on May 4, 2009

For 10 weeks' paid leave, I'd *gladly* take a 20% pay cut!
posted by chez shoes at 3:44 PM on May 4, 2009

more than ten weeks of paid leave right from the get-go

Good lord. I would be so all over this job there would be a cartoon-style outline of my body in their door where I sprinted through it. As noted above, you could always freelance during the off time and make most of the money back.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:46 PM on May 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Its pretty hard to put a price on medical insurance as well as the pension. Take it from me, you can't tell when your going to need the medical insurance. Hopefully never, but realistically things can change in a heartbeat, literally! Have a look at some expenses during a hospital visit. The medical insurance plus pension is meat and potatoes. The ten weeks of leave and the rest of it is added gravy.

Take the new job!!
posted by Taurid at 3:51 PM on May 4, 2009

Don't take it. You'll be much better off in a slowly dying company watching your salary shrink, not even daring to take what leave you are allowed there (for the good of the team!), and waiting for that final week when you don't actually get paid for the work you've already done.

See how ridiculous that sounds?
posted by No-sword at 3:52 PM on May 4, 2009

I'd say take the community college job.

How much vacation do you get now? You know 10 weeks is 20% of 50 weeks. You'll likely find that 10 weeks far easier to take than whatever time your getting now, just avoid the few heavy IT times, like student registration, etc. I kinda doubt you'll see much "pay cut" if evaluated "hourly", although obviously your earn less overall.

You might ask how those weeks convert, role over, etc. Do you realize some people retire months or years early based on saved up vacation?

I suspect the university actually obeys federal laws concerning overtime pay, likely even for on-call work, while your current employer likely skirts overtime whenever possible. So you might see significant overtime during the few heavy IT times, lessening the total earnings hit.

You can always look for transfers into better paying IT jobs within the same state retirement framework. Yes, you can still get pay raises within academia by getting hire paying offers elsewhere. Also, state retirement often depends only upon your pay immediately prior to retirement. Professors often switch into the painful high paying administrative jobs immediately prior to retirement, maybe some analog exists for IT.

In short, academia & private enterprise both offer numerous & different tricks for increasing your pay, but whose tricks you can exploit better depends upon you. You might also find you prefer academia's IT culture more.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:24 PM on May 4, 2009

it's only a matter of time before the company can't make payroll (really).

In other words you're looking at a 100% pay cut somewhere in the near future.

Jump ship now, my friend.

I'm nearly 30 and about to get married to someone just starting a not-particularly-lucrative career.

Nearly 30? Christ, that's ancient.

As for your S/O - some people take this type of thing seriously when their fiancee (kind of sounds like finance, huh?) takes a pay cut. Talk to him/her about it and make sure they aren't going to bail on you. I've seen it happen.
posted by wfrgms at 4:36 PM on May 4, 2009

It's a tough decision. If you're footloose and flexible, keep the (relatively) good pay. Meanwhile, watch the job boards, keep your powder dry and be ready to jump ship.

On the other hand, a 20 percent cut isn't so bad. If you wait until your present company folds you may take a much bigger hit. A good spouse, a good car, good bread, good wine -- as the poet said, O wilderness is paradise enough!

And ten weeks! The mind reels.

But a caveat -- you may think the new job offers some job security, but you CANNOT know that, because it's not knowable. In 2009, anyone who says otherwise is a liar or a fool.
posted by Brzht at 4:36 PM on May 4, 2009

Working at a university would be so... relaxing. I would take it, and I'm almost positive that you two can get by on your combined salaries. If you bank half your combined income for a couple of years you will be able to afford a house. Sounds like a great opportunity.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:14 PM on May 4, 2009

I took a pay cut for security and benefits about 2 years ago and I so do not regret it. And I didn't even get the sweet leave deal or good work environment. Take it!
posted by JoanArkham at 5:20 PM on May 4, 2009

The 20% cut pretty much pays for the ten weeks off. So everything else is equal. If you need to or want to, you can work at something else during that time. Or you can not.
posted by megatherium at 5:40 PM on May 4, 2009

I have to agree with everybody else. Plus, with an academic schedule, you can probably save a bundle on day care (if kids are part of the plans - if they're not, you don't need so much money anyway!)
posted by Salamandrous at 5:46 PM on May 4, 2009

Your question is whether to take a 20%-less job that you'll likely love, or take your chances that you'll find a 100% job to replace your current job, right? If I knew that my opportunities at this 20%-less job may eventually lead to 100%+ pay, then I would go for it, understanding the reality that purchasing a house will be gone for a long, long time. Then again, home ownership can be overrated.

But, if you have any doubts about this 20%-less job, and if it is simply dead-end job despite its great benefits, then I'd hold out for a better paying gig. I'm sort of a risk-taker, though.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:55 PM on May 4, 2009

This is an easy decision - if the roles were reversed, would there be any question?

If you were making 20% less and had security and 10 weeks vacation, would you leave and go work for a failing startup?
posted by bensherman at 6:20 PM on May 4, 2009

I totally missed that you'd be faculty, not IT for the college, so you're talking incredibly different work environments, and your life will change more than you realize. I'd still say take the job if only for all the above reasons, plus especially the reliable health insurance. So try it & see if you like it.

I'd say the major downsides to teaching for community college are that you may be expected to teach evening classes and many students are quite slow, but the older ones common in evening classes will be smarter and more motivated. You definitely won't get overtime but you can often teach extra classes when you need more money. You may or may not have even more time for side projects, you won't know until you try.

If you do like the job but don't have a PhD. now, you should look into working towards one at some big state school nearby. A PhD. may dramatically improve your pay scale, may reduce your teaching load, and may be required for promotion beyond some point. I'm sure some labs will be happy having help from someone who has a salary already. I don't know the state will give you tuition remission, but your still cheaper then a graduate student if the lab pays via grant money.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:25 PM on May 4, 2009

Is the ten week leave really the summer? If you're tenured faculty or tenure-track faculty, that summer vacation rapidly disappears in the swamp of work. Sure, you're not teaching but that doesn't mean you're not working.

If this is a tenure-track faculty position and you don't have a Ph.D., or a Master's and lots of experience (which is only applicable at a community college), you won't ever get that much-touted tenure. You'll forever be adjunct or visiting.

What in the world is a non-teaching tenure-track job at a community college? That just doesn't totally add up to me...

Teaching at the college level really isn't all it's cracked up to be. You could be at the $35-50k range forever and working your ass off for it.
posted by barnone at 9:22 PM on May 4, 2009

People in all walks of life complain about their jobs. I have a family full of professors who complain relentlessly. But here is the "tell": very very few professors ever willfully abandon their jobs to do something else. and there is a reason for that. Being a professor is the best job there is, bar few. TAKE THAT JOB DAMMIT. 10 weeks a year and killer bennies. VS, what doing a job that sucks so you can afford to buy a house? Not to mention possibilites for sabbatical etc. OK, be sure to tell us what you decide. xoxoxo
posted by jcworth at 9:54 PM on May 4, 2009

If you're really that down on your current company and could live on less, why not try it? Coincidentally, I actually just left a cushy university IT job for the private sector; while it was hard to leave, I'm happy with my current position and am confident that it was the right move for me career-wise. I felt like it was such a huge decision when I made the move, but I figure it's how you get diverse experience and skills, which ostensibly makes you more employable.

That said, while I loved my time at university job and would go back in a heartbeat given the right opportunity, you don't mention whether or not you're excited about the job. Consider at least continuing your search if this job would just be drudgery; otherwise you might be really earning those ten weeks off and putting your future self at a disadvantage.
posted by substars at 11:56 PM on May 4, 2009

If it were I, I'd note:
1) The 20% cut in nominal pay is offset by a 20% cut in nominal worktime.
2) I'm going to be working the bulk of my life, and once my basic needs are met,
the scarcest resource in my life will be (MY) time.

So it really comes down to whether the job is offered, and if the environment is
a good fit. If so, I'd take the job, and bask in the Awesomness of my Karma (and
the attendent responsibilities..)

I'd re-read the posts by jeffburdges in this Askme, as they cover most of what I'd consider, if I were a faster writer.

Oh, and finally: If it didn't work out, and you wanted back in industry, I think that applying for a new job (say, a year or two from now) while working a secure job is better than applying while working an insecure job. Morover, the industry offerings will tend to respect the 10 week vacation by offering more money (which they might not if it were only 2-4 weeks)
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 1:34 AM on May 5, 2009

I did almost this 6 years ago (30% cut for 2days work at home and a permanent position instead of contracting). Definitely worth it in quality of life and I would choose it every time.
Be aware, however, that in a few years time you might look at higher paid corporate gigs but feel a bit locked in because of your pension and perks. It tends to act as cheap golden handcuffs - I can't understand why other employers don't use the same tactics.
posted by bystander at 5:39 AM on May 5, 2009

I did this exact same thing. Went from high-paying corporate job to a lower-paying job in higher education with fantastic benefits. While it makes money a bit tighter, my fiance and I decided we could make it work. I promised to buy less random crap I don't really need, and pack my lunch most days to help make up for it. I have zero regrets, and couldn't imagine going back. The quality of life here is fantastic.

Go for it!
posted by thejanna at 6:07 AM on May 5, 2009

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