Hang in or move on, work edition
February 18, 2014 7:11 PM   Subscribe

I got a job offer that would get me out of my high-stress, 70-mile daily commute position. The downside is that it is a pay cut and a step back in my career, at a time when I just invested a lot of time and energy in moving forward in my career.

I'm currently in a mid-level management position that is high stress, overseeing a system with tons of problems and trying to provide support for tens of thousands of users with a very small staff. I commute 2.5-3 hours round trip to and from this job, and put in lots of evening and weekend hours. (It sounds like I'm in IT, but despite doing IT work I'm actually in another staff department, without the IT level of pay.)

The role is experiencing unprecedented levels of visibility and challenge due to a major organizational project. The project will wrap at the end of June, and I hope (but don't have any guarantee) that things will be less stressful then. This job is in my desired general industry, but in a niche area that I don't want to stay in long term.

In the meantime, my child is struggling in school, and it is very difficult to be a part of the solution for her. My partner has picked up almost all the kid-related duties in the 2+ years I've been in this role, and I am frustrated by not being able to do more.

Last year, I finished a professional master's degree that I hoped would help me transition out of this niche area, but I have had a really hard time finding another job. Most of my classmates that have changed jobs have moved for them, and that's not really an option for me at this time. The goals I had when I got into the program don't seem realistic anymore - given my experience in the current job I'm not sure I could manage the stress of an even higher-level position, and I can't get an interview for one anyway.

I have been offered an individual contributor position at another organization that pays significantly (20%) less, but is more in an area of the industry that I think has growth potential and that I'm interested in. Based on conversations with others in the group I'd be joining, there is good work-life balance, the boss is good, and I like the group of people I'd be working with. It is an easy half hour drive from my house. The job is a step back in responsibility and pay, and I never thought I'd be seriously considering taking that kind of a backwards step after the effort of getting a master's degree.

I'm exhausted and burnt out in my job, and I desperately want my life back, but I don't want to make a career move that I will regret long term. Have you made a backwards move in your career? How did it work out? How can I evaluate whether the offer is really a path to better things or a dead end?
posted by jeoc to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Is it still less pay even when you factor in the decreased cost of gas, tolls (if applicable), and wear and tear on your car for the new job? Also, be sure to factor in the cost of your time commuting - figure out what your "hourly rate" is and multiply that by the extra hours you are commuting right now. Unless you drive an electric vehicle and your hourly rate is minimum wage, I would guess that the amount of time and money you spend commuting for your current job would be close to the amount of the pay cut you would take for this new job.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:15 PM on February 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

If it has the growth potential you want, how is it a step back? Especially if your current job lacks that potential?

You're burnt out. It sounds like there's a strong possibility your partner is going to burn out as sole childcare provider. Your kid's having a rough time. Put your wellbeing, your partner's wellbeing, your kid's wellbeing, and your wellbeing as a family first here, and take the job.
posted by jaguar at 7:35 PM on February 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Reading your situation, I would take the 20% hit gladly. Go for it.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 9:06 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

According to this article, a recent study in the UK says that shorter commutes positively affect people's sense of life satisfaction, and their senses of happiness, and their feelings that their lives are worthwhile, and their levels of anxiety.

(Well, ok, technically it says that people with shorter commutes report more positive feelings in all those areas).

Lots of variables in terms of length of commute and type of transportation, but they say the effects are statistically significant:

posted by pocketfullofrye at 9:12 PM on February 18, 2014

I'm exhausted and burnt out in my job, and I desperately want my life back, but I don't want to make a career move that I will regret long term. Have you made a backwards move in your career? How did it work out? How can I evaluate whether the offer is really a path to better things or a dead end?
This sounds like my last job. I was working at a high stress, high pressure company. I took the position thinking it was the ticket I needed to get out of a stable job where I was underutilized and couldn't move up the ladder. It felt good at first, but then after six months, I realized I had made a huge mistake. My relationship started to suffer. I had weird physical symptoms. I couldn't sleep. There was a lot of nonsense political stuff going on at the company that pissed me off. Then I finally wised up and said, eh, screw it. I refused to play the 80-hour work-week game and was gradually pushed into more minor roles until I finally left of my own volition.

As I got pushed gradually into the basement with the red stapler, I acquired some interesting experience in another department. I used that, plus a good connection I made with a manager in that department, to secure a new job at a smaller company. My new job is a notch above my last job on the pay scale, plus at the new company I am an expert based on my experiences at the last job – kind of a "big fish, small pond" effect.

By a certain narrative, I went "backwards" to where I was before taking that job at the high pressure company. But I don't really see it that way. I gained a lot of experience and I am a better person for it.

Really, I think it just comes down to what you're willing to sacrifice. For me, life is too short. I never want my work stress to completely override my ability to enjoy time with my loved ones. If the price I have to pay for that is to limit my career ambitions, or take it more slowly than other people, then that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.
posted by deathpanels at 9:20 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I left an exhausting job (and the resulting PTSD that took me over a year and a half to get over) for health and family reasons. I'm now in a less stressful position (in a different stressful industry, but there is NO comparison to what I did before) and I work from home.

My pay cut was essentially 20-25%. My new position isn't quite like what I'd imagined, but you know what? I absolutely, absolutely, absolutely made the right decision. I would much rather have time than money. I smile a lot more these days.

Your kid is important. Your partner is important. Time is important. The release from the mechanical and psychic wear and tear of the commute... it's important.

Why work so hard to support your family and yet not be there to enjoy and shape what you've created?
posted by mochapickle at 10:31 PM on February 18, 2014

Best answer: I just said this in another thread, but people will gladly trade time for money when the truth of the matter is time is finite no matter how much money you have while given enough time, you can make a substantial amount of money.

So, you get, what, two hours back per today with the shorter commute? What's your hourly rate? I mean, 2 hours of newfound free time a day is a pretty substantial reward. If you make $50 an hour, that's $100 a day, 5 days a week, that's pretty substantial "additional compensation" in terms of time, you know? Not to mention the benefits to your partner and family and yourself.

Big picture: Let's say you don't do this and your kid starts having real problems and your partner burns out. How much happier are you going to be if your career is going well? (I'm guessing not much, on net).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:39 PM on February 18, 2014

Take the 20% pay cut for your kid and for your partner. Think of this as the key to getting real time with them back, because they're the thing that matters, not your job.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:45 PM on February 18, 2014

You dislike your life as it is today, and by taking this job, you have more opportunity in the long run, plus you get more time back. I'm still trying to see where the downside is. Oh, money.

You can always make more money, at this point, for your family and for you, this new job may just be the stepping-stone to bigger and better things ahead.

Take the new job, and de-stress and get more of your family time back.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:37 AM on February 19, 2014

Best answer: The only reason I would even consider staying where you are is if EVERY penny of your current salary is completely required and there is no way to reduce your living expenses. Ie - if you are living paycheck to paycheck and you've already reduced everything you can, then yes, you need that money.

But in any other case - if your family can live on the reduced salary, even if it means giving up premium cable or moving to a smaller house, I would jump at the chance to reduce stress and commute* and live much happier on a smaller salary. I did this, and yes, there are still a few minutes each year when I think about the lost money, but there are thousands of minutes each year when I am so glad I chose this job, in this location, with this work culture.

In fact, when you said "an easy half-hour" away, I was all like OH NO, that's still way too far for me.
posted by CathyG at 12:11 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do it! (The fact that you're asking makes me presume it is financially possible; otherwise, you wouldn't even be considering it, if it would make you homeless, etc.):

No amount of stuff, or degree of fanciness of stuff, is worth soul-crushing stress and alienation from your family. I think the odds are good that you will be much, much happier in the new job.

How lucky you are to have the choice -- take it!
posted by ravioli at 4:40 PM on February 19, 2014

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