Employment or FUNemployment?
March 1, 2011 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Should I take advantage of free time after a layoff, or go charging right back into the work force?

I currently work in the industry I've been aiming for my whole cognizant life. I got my foot in the door years ago and have worked my way up to management level for an industry leader, but in a vein of work I'm not too fond of. Luckily this summer, as a result of a company reorg, my department is moving across the country and my position has been eliminated. I'll collect a severance/vacation time payout that is roughly 1/4 of my annual salary (pretax), and I have 6 months of living expenses saved up, not to mention the possibility of unemployment claims.

What I'd like to do is stay career free for at least six months and do those things I've been putting off because there wasn't time (travel, work on some household projects, take classes through Open Course Ware, catch up on some reading, etc, etc.) I'm not opposed to having doing some sort of work on the side, but I don't want a 9-5 again for a while. I'm coming up on 30 and I don't know if there will be another chance to take this kind of time off in the future, especially if I get on the baby making train in a few years or so.

On the other hand, I keep hearing about these opportunities opening up around the company in other departments. Opportunities that sound interesting and more aligned toward my personal skills and interests. Judging from experience, I'm guessing that these other jobs pay about 1/3 less than I make now, which would cramp my style a bit but its a livable wage.

I have these nagging voices in my head that say I should go for the lower paying, possibly more satisfying, steady work versus taking my career sabbatical. Because job security and building up my 401k is important. If I took another job with my current employer, I'd lose my severance package and my opportunity to collect unemployment which I see as turning away free money.

So, I return to my original question hivemind, should I go put the F in front of unemployment or do I try to stay afloat, secure, insured and funded?
posted by mrsshotglass to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Having been laid off a number of times, I LOVE using my severance package to float me through at least a small break.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:17 PM on March 1, 2011

I am, in general, a big fan of taking time to get your head on straight between jobs. Particularly if the alternative is taking a full-time, career-position gig that pays a fraction of your current salary. Surely you can do better than that!

(Disclaimer: I have now been unemployed since September. I kind of love it, but I am definitely in sight of the end of my woman-of-leisurehood and it's moderately alarming. Still, at this point I wouldn't change anything.)
posted by restless_nomad at 3:17 PM on March 1, 2011

Take the break


In the mean time, look for relevant jobs in interesting areas. Network. Learn something new. Become more aware of the skillset needed where you want to be coming back. Develop relationships. During your break, do something that will give you a proud answer to the inevitable question when you return to the workforce "so, what have you been up to since you left Company A at Time B?".

So yes, take your break and enjoy that time mentally but make it a break that gets you something meaningful.
posted by milqman at 3:23 PM on March 1, 2011


Personally, I'd say travel. To me that's the one thing that is hardest to do when you're working - it all comes down to time. I don't need luxury travel, so it is pretty easy to go somewhere for a couple weeks for a completely reasonable sum of money. It is a *lot* harder to get 2-3 weeks off when you're working full time.
posted by alaijmw at 3:25 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do a little networking before you start your break. Tell people what you're going to be doing (or the thing they'll remember). Make it sound at least partly a move of your own volition. Let some of them know approximately when you'll return to the game.

Then as milqman says above, do something that will give you a proud answer to the inevitable question when you return to the workforce, bonus points if it's what you threatened to do as you left.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 3:28 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Taking a week or two to travel, without interruption from work-related stuff, would not be a bad way to boost morale. Of course, you can sometimes connect travel to legitimate-sounding and only marginally work-related endeavors like research. You can also spend time networking and adding to the toolbox for your next round of interviews. Taking new classes or teaching (if you have the street cred to do it) may buff up the resume. Nowhere is it written that these things have to be full-time work.
posted by Hylas at 4:27 PM on March 1, 2011

I also vote for the sabbatical. It can be a wonderful opportunity for personal development, enrichment, and self-growth.

One very gentle word of caution, and I say this with absolutely no malice: some people take offense to talking about unemployment as "free money." You're only supposed to be able to collect unemployment if you are actively looking for a job. Now, if you want to think of it as free money, that is 100% your business, but I suggest either not discussing that publicly or using different language.

Have a wonderful break. I think it's awesome!! :)
posted by hansbrough at 4:29 PM on March 1, 2011

Also: accepting part-time work will affect your unemployment claim, too.
posted by hansbrough at 4:30 PM on March 1, 2011

If I were in your shoes, I might consider doing some traveling and fun stuff like that while I was relatively seriously looking for a job, but that's because getting a new job often takes months in my industry these days. If you are able to get back when you need to or do phone interviews, it seems to me you could still browse ads, take calls and send out resumes remotely. However, that might not work for industries where you need to be physically around to be job-searching.

The idea of taking a longer amount of time off is fun, but I know some people who have tried that recently, and then when went they went to find jobs after 6 months, they found that things were a lot worse than they thought and then had another 6 months or a year of not enjoying their time off because they needed a job by then.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 4:35 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take a short break if you like (<1 mo.) but the longer you are out of work, the less interested companies will be in your resume. At least, that's how my company has been doing things.
posted by maryr at 5:20 PM on March 1, 2011

In the current economy, unless you are in finance, software development at the project manager level, in healthcare statistical reseach, are certified in logistics, are a corporate controller, and otherwise are at the absolute top of the applicant pool, finding a job will be harder and more difficult than you likely realize. NYC has a decent labor market, for specific skill sets, but a massive dispersion - with jobs at the top - and jobs closer to entry level skillsets. True specialist and mid-level jobs are very very few in relation to the number of qualified applicants.

I'm not trying to be a naysayer, I'm trying to make sure that you recognize that post financial crisis white collar labor has been restructured to eliminate the middle tier job scape. Travel sounds awsome, but I would put off traveling until I had secured a job. Id provide them a start date of two weeks post whatever so you can get your travel in, but you have to have some security in the long term.

October 2008 was a massive awakening to the american labor market. As a corporate culture we were pretty bloated prior to that. It took a few years for corporations to understand what the new economic reality was, but trust me they have found out exactly how much they can do in the name of austerity. Workers still don't quite see how willingly we have eliminated our own jobs, and how little responsibility corporations have to reflect back to their employees.

In other words, ensure your financial situation first by securing a job, then travel, then go to work. If it happens fast, you can do a real awsome trip.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:29 PM on March 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

What Nanuk said - find the job and you can probably arrange to start after a month or two.
posted by maryr at 5:30 PM on March 1, 2011

If I were you, I'd be jobhunting immediately and constantly. You don't know how long it'll take to find another job, and you may very well end up with a lot of free time for a year or more while you hunt anyway even if you start now. I wouldn't use this as "free fun time" by any means. Sorry, but that's not so much how the world works any more. (Oh, and if you're on unemployment, they don't like it if you travel, unless you can make it look like you were job hunting during that time.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:00 PM on March 1, 2011

I would also start looking for a job within a couple weeks. You can always negotiate your start date to accommodate some travel time. I'm not sure if this is true in all states, but at least in California, they deduct whatever kind of income you have coming in from your benefits. I believe this would also include severance.
posted by kookaburra at 7:02 PM on March 1, 2011

I believe this would also include severance.

Incorrect. California EDD does not deduct whatever severance you received from your unemployment benefits. Specifically:

"Severance pay is not wages for unemployment insurance purposes."
posted by phoebus at 7:12 PM on March 1, 2011

I stand corrected. I would check on the details of your state's unemployment benefits so you can best weigh your options.
posted by kookaburra at 7:15 PM on March 1, 2011

Best answer: If you have just 6 months worth of living expenses saved, taking six months off is too risky. It can take a while to find work. Even if I was confident I had in-demand skills, I wouldn't want the stress of trying to find work before I exhausted that vacation/severance package.

As others have pointed out, you're only eligible for unemployment if you are actively seeking work. (This is true in New York and most states, I believe.) You might undertake a passive search while catching up on your reading, but it's going to be hard to justify collecting if you're trekking the Himalayas. Your ethical standards may vary, of course.

Still, I don't think you should take one of those lower paid jobs at your company. I'd collect that severance, and take a good 1 to 3 months off. Plan your time off to the fullest -- travel, read, whatever! Than come back and look for work in earnest a few hours a day. You may find that perfect job immediately, or you may find yourself with a few more months to catch up on your reading and learning. With adequate savings, you're in a win-win situation.
posted by reren at 2:07 AM on March 2, 2011

I know this guy who used to work for start ups and every time a start up went out of business, he would take time off and travel. He's actually seen most of the world this way. I say take the time off.
posted by bananafish at 8:16 AM on March 2, 2011

I would, at one point, say "Take a break."

Now, I won't.

HR departments have a cute new trick where they now screen out the unemployed. If there's any gap at all, they'll circular-file your rez. You may have a chance to sneak back in after a layoff, but it dwindles by the day. If you don't hit the bricks now, you may be out of luck for =years=.

This sucks, I know - but it's the way the job market is at the moment. When unemployment is low, that would be the time to "take advantage" of downtime between jobs.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:44 AM on March 2, 2011

I just thought that I'd break this down a little clearer. The WSJ had a good set of national unemployment data by job type. It's interactive - meaning that you can compare your job field vs. the national average, add and select different job titles. Now it isn't regional data, so I pulled some state level stuff for NY and NJ.

Add some more states - it really doesn't get prettier...

I'd FPP the WSJ article (if it isn't already there) - except - I need to get back to the job that pays the bills.

Whatever you decide - good luck, and may you find work that is both satisfying and pays the bills.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2011

I've read (on MeFi I think) that the longer you're unemployed the less attractive you are to potential employers. I've had friends (in the 20's) that have been unemployed for years after losing their white collar tech jobs. It's miserable out there, don't underestimate the difficulty of finding another job.
posted by exhilaration at 9:27 AM on March 2, 2011

« Older Am I an undisciplined day dreamer or do I have...   |   FUCKING WINDOWS 98!! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.