Should I take this demotion?
February 8, 2010 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Should I take this demotion?

My current job has a problematic culture of overwork and a long commute. We are considered to be exempt, and regularly work more than forty hours per week for comp time which we never get around to redeeming. My commute is more than two hours/day; typically, I'm out of the house for eleven to thirteen hours. On top of this, we work one rotating weekend each month. I like the work that I'm doing, but I really don't have time to do much more than sleep and eat on workdays.

I may have a chance to take a similar job in a related field, but it's technically a demotion--it doesn't require a degree, and the pay is about fifteen percent lower (though, of course, if I take into account the length and expense of my commute, and the hours I work for comp time...I'm getting a raise!). The commute is short and it sounds like I might actually have an eight-hour workday. My new title would be less impressive, reflecting the lower qualifications; I worry that this, along with the lower nominal salary, will make finding my next job harder and could ding my income in a long-term way.

Should it stick it out? Is making more on paper worth the long hours and maddening commute? If you made a choice like this, was it worthwhile?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My vote is to take the new job.

You're worrying about something in the future (your next unknown job down the road) instead of what you can have control over right now! Living in DC, I hear about people alllll the time who leave one job for another just to decrease their commute.

Also, you never know what's going to happen. My boss was actually my co-worker at my previous company. He was making a 2 hour (one-way!) commute every day, so left to take a job with our current company. 3 months after he hired on, his boss left the company. So next thing you know, he stepped up into his new position. Convoluted, but the point is he took a cut for a shorter commute, but in the end wound up making more than he was before.
posted by matty at 5:20 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

It shouldn't affect your next job in the slightest. As long as you explain to your next employer the reasons for your job move to a lower level position, it should be fine. They're hiring you based on your merit and skills, not a paper trail. Salary negotiations don't have to be based on your last job's salary, don't even bring up your past salary because it doesn't have anything to do with any company that is thinking of hiring you. They pay for what you are worth to them, it's your job to figure out what that is.

It sounds like you will be getting a huge quality of life and small financial raise, go for it.
posted by mallow005 at 5:20 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you pay a premium for services that you could do yourself but just don't have the time? What about transportation costs? Chances are when you factor these out you'll probably keep more of your take home with the new job than the old. The stress level reduction is another plus. If the title is bothering you you could probably make a deal with them to change your title in 6 months or so to something more impressive as long as you meet expectations, like from Button Pusher to "Senior" Button Pusher.
posted by Yorrick at 5:33 PM on February 8, 2010

I took a paycut and demotion to take the job I currently have, for very similar reasons.

I've never looked back. I get to spend more time at home with my family and I have more time for myself. It's well worth it.
posted by donpardo at 5:40 PM on February 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Depending on the state, your salary, and your responsibilities, you may be improperly classified as exempt and have past pay coming to you. Also depending on the state you may also have backpay coming to you for all of your oncall hours.
posted by rhizome at 5:50 PM on February 8, 2010

Take the new job. Getting in an hour of exercise/family time/reading rather than being stuck in traffic will improve your life much more than the 15% pay difference.

If you sleep 7 hours and work a minimum of 8 hours, that leaves you with 9 hours of "free" time per day. At least one hour of that is taken by waking up and getting ready for work, leaving 8 hours. Eating supper takes another hour, and doing daily chores at least another hour, leaving an upper bound of six hours of actual free time during a weekday. If you commute two hours, that is cutting your weekday free time by 33% - which doesn't even count the overtime you mention. If you are getting 0 hrs of free time on weekdays, any amount will be a huge improvement. I switched from a similar schedule to a short commute several years back and it has changed my life - now I have time for exercise, taking classes outside of my job, and maintaining my non-work life much more effectively.

When you move on to job N+2, just provide references that can confirm you were not forced out of your current job and back up your quality of life story.
posted by benzenedream at 6:02 PM on February 8, 2010

Ask if they can give you your current title without the pay raise. As an old man in his late 40's, take the new job. You cannot buy back your lost time with any amount of money.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:08 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

From a guy who leaves home at 8:50, take a quick walk then begin the shift at 9, coffee in hand.
I have dinner with my wife, without the kids, who are at school(!). I'v Been doing that for 7 years now, never brought lunch at work. Never got to socialise much in the canteen. Worthy of a demotion just for that, if you ask me!
Very average salary but very happy man, I don't even bother looking elsewhere...
Never forget the Sleep-Work-Fun triangle, dudes!
When i see car companies advertizing their 'fun to drive' cars...
Having fun on that bridge at 7:30?
The New Yorker's 7 page take on it.
posted by CitoyenK at 6:13 PM on February 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

For the next job liability prt of the question, if you apply for a better job that have similar conditions ( i.e. to your tastes) it's easily explainable in a presentation letter or in an interview... IANAHRM!
posted by CitoyenK at 6:24 PM on February 8, 2010

Will you be exempt in this new position? If you're not, then you actually will stand to make more if you work overtime.

Fifteen percent is really a good tradeoff to get a better work/play balance. I say go for it.
posted by inturnaround at 6:55 PM on February 8, 2010

It's not a demotion. It's getting a different job.
posted by ged at 7:02 PM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Take the new job -- the shorter hours and shorter commute are better for your health and will give you more of an opportunity to do things other than work, eat, and sleep during the week. It sounds like the new job is what you really want to do, and that it's just a concern over potential future issues that is holding you back. The possible risk is worth it -- you're less likely to get burned out and hate life if you can have a life outside of work, too. That will not just make you a happier person in the long run, but a better employee.
posted by tastybrains at 7:03 PM on February 8, 2010

2 hour commute = 10 hours a week. Which is basically one work-day. So you might get 15% less pay but have a drastic amount more of your own time.
- health: long-term risks of not exercising, not sleeping, not eating well: while the specifics differ, they all agree: excercise, sleep and good food all help you live a healthier (and thus less costly) life. Think of it amortized over 50 years.
- food preparation: you're probably losing money on eating out, and spending money in different ways to compensate for not having 'fun' time.
- commute: gas! and car wear & tear!

Sometimes people get trapped into the theory of increments: "but it's only an hour less a day!" or something. But when you look at the ratio of "free time" vs. "not free time" the difference can be huge. If you currently only have 2 hours a day (if that) of free time, then an additional 2 hours will DOUBLE your free time.

As much as you can, ensure you'll enjoy the new job, that it has similar benefits, and that you won't be taking a massive work-enjoyment hit at the same time. If that all checks out well, go forth and revel in your newfound free time!!

Maybe they'll change the title for you. Maybe they'll help sponsor a class or something. Or maybe you'll just see that a work-life balance is worth all those things and more.
posted by barnone at 7:16 PM on February 8, 2010

Take the demotion, or continue to search for a new job that's a step across instead of down.

Worst case, when looking for the job after that, inflate or deflate parts of your resume to conceal the demotion, or simply be smooth at truthfully explaining why you accepted a change like that.
posted by talldean at 7:24 PM on February 8, 2010

It's not a demotion. It's getting a different job.


Also, you're thinking too hard if you imagine people in some future employment office will even notice the reduction in pay or reduced responsibility when comparing this apple to that orange.

There's no reason you have to describe the new job in such deprecating terms in your resume. I see many thousands of resumes per year, which teaches me: one can describe a position in any number of ways, and the vast majority of resumes don't include salary information.
posted by rokusan at 7:32 PM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you can afford to make 15% less, take the new job. It's hard to put a dollar value on things like your health and your sanity, but it sounds like you're not in a position to value those as much as you should be at your current place of employment.

One thing to keep in mind is that "considered to be exempt" and actually exempt are two different things. It's not just a classification that employers make up, calling them salaried and hourly. It is a legal classification. Here is a website which helps you determine if you are classified correctly by describing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):

If you should be non-exempt but your employer has classified you as exempt, your employer could be breaking the law. If you believe that you are owed money for overtime you have worked, I'd recommend contacting an employment lawyer to look at your options. It may cushion the blow of taking a 15% pay cut for your new job.
posted by juniperesque at 7:58 PM on February 8, 2010

Penelope Trunk writes well about the trade offs of commuting.

The linked post is a great place to start.
posted by u2604ab at 9:30 PM on February 8, 2010

Seconding: titles are free, might your new employer be willing to let you keep your existing title?
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 10:11 PM on February 8, 2010

A demotion is what you call it when your current boss takes away some of your responsibilities and/or salary. What you are doing is making a decision to take a better job that pays a bit less. People do it all the time. Once you have been doing the new job for a while, you will be able to come up with ways to justify it on your resume as an advancement.
posted by bingo at 10:58 PM on February 8, 2010

I would see if they're open to tweaking the title so it doesn't read quite so much like a step backward on your resume, there's a chance they'd be understanding about it, especially since you're not negotiating for more money. I'd be totally transparent about it -- 'I'm really interested in working with you but I'm concerned about how this will read on my resume ten years from now'--so it doesn't sound like you're looking to scurry out the door at the first opportunity, but you're looking out for your interests.

Maybe they can soften the disparity a little.

And I'd take the job. Sounds like a pretty significant lifestyle improvement.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:43 AM on February 9, 2010

It sounds like OP is not asking about whether it's a short-term good idea for him to change jobs. I suspect all those answers would convince him, if he wasn't already, that the costs of the current job are more than 15% higher than the costs of the potential new job. That's a pretty straightforward thing to figure out - just list everything (gas, car repairs, take-out food and other time-savers, perks you allow yourself to make up for being miserable) and do the math.

The question is sounds like you started out asking, though was, how much would a reduction in job title hurt your resume, thus your future job prospects? I can see your concern - you're saying it's a shift from a higher-education career track to a no-degree career track. You may be over-stating the change, though; in a lot of cases, it's hard to predict a career track from a single job. How much of a change in job titles is there? How much are these job titles standard across your industry? i.e. if someone sees job title A followed by job title B, will they say "why did you take that step backwards?" or will the person reading the resume skim the job titles and rely on your description of your work to draw conclusions about your career path? If the name of the job is a problem, do you think potential employer would be flexible about that - like the salary, it's a valid negotiating point.

The thing is, changing jobs doesn't make you any dumber or any less competant. You may start with fewer responsibilities, but you will be in a great position to expand your work beyond the job description that they're hiring for. You will probably end up doing things just as interesting at the new job as at the old one, because you're capable of it, and you can phrase your resume to highlight that.
posted by aimedwander at 6:30 AM on February 9, 2010

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