Jobs with the best work:money ratio
March 7, 2021 10:21 PM   Subscribe

What job has the best work:money ratio? That is, the job where you do the least amount of work for the most amount of money relative to the work you have to do?

My spouse and I had a lively debate about this tonight and were hoping for more ideas. Parameters: Job must be a job that most anyone could attain given the education/training, can’t be an extreme outlier of a job where only 1% of people attain it (like the CEO of Amazon), must be an actual job (not a cult leader or head of an MLM or trust fund kid), and most importantly, must have the best ratio of as little work as possible for the most possible money. (This doesn’t have to be a high paying job, it can just pay really well for comparatively little work.)
posted by juniperesque to Work & Money (46 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
If you are a homicide detective - you may get fired if you don't do anything - but you could go a really long ways shrugging your shoulders and saying "I guess this crime is just unsolvable!" Oh god, I don't believe any detectives actually think like that, but I often think about how can you really know if they are doing their job or if a crime really is unsolvable?
posted by cda at 10:33 PM on March 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Different people will define "least amount of work" differently.

For example, take two people. One identifies strongly as an introvert, the other strongly as an extravert. Offer them both a customer-facing job.
posted by aniola at 10:51 PM on March 7, 2021 [13 favorites]

Also, does the training period count toward the ratio?
posted by aniola at 10:53 PM on March 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

I feel like the answer to this is going to be really boring. A technical office job where nobody knows exactly what you do but your position’s actual purpose was made obsolete years ago and nobody has quite figured it out - jobs like this pop up all over the place, so the one you’re looking for just happens to be in an exceptionally well-compensated industry.

On the other hand, while there are positions that fit that description, it isn’t an actual job category. At the risk of being too political, I might alternatively nominate the job of heading certain types of companies that compete for government contracts to provide personnel (rather than contracts to provide goods) for niche projects. You do need a certain level of credentials, reputation, or connection in order to win the contract, but after that is achieved the role seems to mostly consist of reaping huge margins in return for proving HR and payroll services to sub and sub-sub contractors in order to insulate government officials from conflicts of interest and other forms of liability. I recognize that some of these positions involve managing complex projects, but many more consist of enlisting an expert consultant or two and sending them to the job site, or acting as a middle layer with a sub-contracted firm to do the work. And even when a problem does pop up that requires attention, the often huge levels of compensation, er, compensate for that at a ratio that is tough to meet.
posted by exutima at 10:58 PM on March 7, 2021 [15 favorites]

These aren't highly paid, but, depending on how you define "work," there are night watchman type positions where basically, so long as you're physically present, you can mostly do whatever you like.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:03 PM on March 7, 2021 [14 favorites]

Movie projectionist
posted by NotLost at 11:15 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think the answer will be finance at a company that has a rigorous, well-policed, positive work-life culture. So you're looking at how far you can go salary wise on a 9 to 5 working week. Anecdotally, I know people on $100,000 on a 9–5, and I'm sure folks will have examples of people who earn more on the same formula.
posted by einekleine at 11:17 PM on March 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

Another boring answer: lower-responsibility software engineering?

* Don't have to make it into the office by any particular time (even night watchmen have to show up on time)
* Might not even have many meetings (so you can take any day off you want without inconveniencing anyone or working it out with teammates, e.g. nurses)
* Don't really have to smile at anyone or be externally-facing in any way (you're not up for harassment from the public, e.g. anyone in a service industry / retail / education)
* You could work on an internal tool so that if your thing breaks, the only people mad at you are other people inside the company (the blast radius of you dropping the ball is low)

You do have to do some work, but that work demands very little of your spirit or emotions if you don't let it, and these jobs are widely available ($100k+ 2012-dollars on a 10-5 in a state with no income tax is doable).
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:21 PM on March 7, 2021 [26 favorites]

1) Being paid a retainer to be the fix-it guy for machine ABC or program DEF. You might get, say, $5,000 a year for promising to be available when/if they need this, and may not have to actually work at all, or just a few hours. These agreements are also often written so if you do have to work a bunch of hours, the retainer only covers x and you get paid a good hourly for overages.

2) A job where you have to park your behind somewhere for 8 hours a day, but while parked don't have to do much (or sometimes any) actual work. (I would not consider this something that meets your requirements--if someone is forcing me out of my house to be somewhere, that's work, period, whether they actually have tasks for me...but others wouldn't consider it work.) Some tech jobs can be like this, if you end up in a corporate backwater, or temporarily without assignment during a re-org (some places like Microsoft re-org a lot, or at least they used to). The "being paid to not work" doesn't stick around for a long time, in my experience, but I've seen people paid for many months of web-surfing.
posted by maxwelton at 11:39 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

definitely programmer. esp once you have a little experience, it's quite easy to get a very undemanding job.
posted by wooh at 11:43 PM on March 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

My ex-husband once had a job in a corn-processing plant with the title "boiler operator". He worked a 12-hour night shift, 6pm-6am. Once an hour, he was supposed to check some dials, and if the dials indicated he needed to, pour stuff somewhere. Basically, he spent 95+% of the time reading.

I'd just moved to the tiny rural town, knew no one except him and our 2.5yo son, and was severely stressed over a total loss fire just a couple months earlier to my childhood home, and then our wedding, and then my grandmother's passing. I'm an avid reader.

Our local library at the time had a 2-books-at-a-time-per-person rule. They were open Monday-Saturday. We visited daily during corn run. He took 3 books to work, I kept one at home. We never had enough books, and Sundays absolutely sucked.
posted by stormyteal at 11:48 PM on March 7, 2021 [8 favorites]

If you do it right - the Spanish Civil Service. Undefined ratio.
posted by pompomtom at 11:53 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Military officers in those democratic countries that don’t tend to fight wars or deploy overseas have a pretty enviable position.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:55 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

These aren't highly paid, but, depending on how you define "work," there are night watchman type positions where basically, so long as you're physically present, you can mostly do whatever you like.
So, the secret is to get one of those "warm body" jobs for more money. So some customer service roles whereby you are a contact point for a rare emergency but for a financial institution. Like those people who set the Libor. A small amount of work every day for what I assume is a decent salary.

Admittedly, you are surrounded by the worst of humanity and have to be at least upper middle class to get them but still, sweet gig.

Also, there are more of these jobs than you think.
posted by fullerine at 11:59 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

You might be interested in the term "operation vacation" - as discussed here by Dave Lee and James Douma yesterday. This is a term used by Tesla in relation to their auto-pilot team. The team comprises some very expensive to hire Machine Learning specialists - as well as several other types of specialists - with less stellar salaries - who do artefact labelling, project management and so on. "Operation Vacation" has been stated as a design goal for the programme as a whole: get the ML people to build tools that perform so well that they are able to just take a few days off without getting badgered by the rest of the team.

Many high salary/low workload jobs fall into this category: people use their (considerable and rare) skills to design something that is tricky to make, vitally important to a business and which seldom fails. The business will then pay them pretty well do to not much other than stick around. The Pied Piper of Hamlin is a nice parable along this line.

If you want to find a tech job that might allow you to get into this position - then anything related to enterprise level database systems would be a good place to look. Be aware that getting jobs like this is not just a question of technical qualifications: like the pied piper, you must also have charm.
posted by rongorongo at 12:37 AM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine works offshore in the oil and gas industry, which is usually known for quite punishing 2 week on/2 week off shifts, but he has some kind of specialist technician role which means he gets sent to oil rigs for 4 days to fix very particular issues every couple of months. He used to work retail so it wasn't something which took him years of training. He gets like £45,000 a year and basically only has to work a month (in total) out of the whole year.
posted by Lluvia at 12:44 AM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Watchman type positions. My son went to work for British Airways freight in Heathrow. It was pretty exciting: he'd occasionally trot out on the apron to deliver a last package to the plane as it backed out for take-off [long stick to the flight-deck window chekkitout - you can also evacuate the cockpit through the flight-deck window]. But BA was automating all their logistics into bar-coded air-freight containers and miles of switching track hanging from gantries. He kept his pay and title but thereafter he was watching a bank of monitors. About 5% of his time was dealing with snarl-ups, 95% reading / goofing.

Movie projectionist Last time we were in the cinema, possibly in the 00s, the film went wonk and we all shouted for a fix. Eventually someone went out in the foyer and dragged the spotty youth responsible away from chatting up the pop-corn vendors.
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:02 AM on March 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Self employed day trader

Anybody who has control of enough capital to make a living as a self employed day trader has control of enough capital to make an even easier living as a long term buy-and-hold investor.

Over the last ten years, the use of time with the work:money ratio closest to zero has been, hands down, cryptocurrency speculator. Nothing else has even come close.
posted by flabdablet at 1:57 AM on March 8, 2021 [6 favorites]

I know it sounds crazy, but the best ratio I've ever experienced personally was in grad school, TA'ing an easy intro class. One semester, I taught three consecutive discussion sections a week (intro to Java or something), and that was it. Nobody ever came to office hours. That's three hours of work a week for, what, $600 plus free tuition and decent benefits. Doesn't scale well though.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 3:02 AM on March 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm going to Nth software development - that's what I do now and I get paid a fairly shocking amount of money for the number of hours I put in.

Another job I personally have had that required very little work was evening circulation desk supervisor at a university library (like a 3PM-11PM or 4PM-midnight shift). I did this at two separate libraries and, had I chosen to do so, I could have spent ~ 90% of my time reading novels and surfing the internet (I took on more work because I was looking to make a career as a librarian, but it's not impossible to get hired as a slacker). But I got paid maybe 1/4 of what I make as a software developer and my hours were, of course, rigid and social-life-destroying (YMMV if you have friends in, say, the hospitality industry, who are ready to hang out after the library closes). In terms of actual work per dollar it might work out around same as software development.
posted by mskyle at 3:32 AM on March 8, 2021

Urban firefighters have a pretty nice gig most of the time. In our city they work two 24 hour shifts every 7 days, if there are no calls, they can cook sleep and work out. They have a great benefits and great pay. There aren't a lot of house fires these days.
posted by InkaLomax at 3:36 AM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Anything in middle management in an internal-facing role at a medium size company should be pretty decent.

It's not going to be the absolute best on this metric, but even if you're a person with no highly specialized technical knowledge you can do pretty well for yourself. You need excellent communication skills to be a good manager in both directions, but otherwise you can get by with a pretty medium amount of actual job knowledge. If you're clever at seeing the technical skills that others have and you can effectively sell your team's competence to the managers above you, you can get promoted up in people management without having to learn more skills. And if your team is internal facing (R&D, Finance, Safety, HR to a degree) you'll have less pressure in general, should have some leeway to set your own deadlines and goals, and can pretty much shut your computer guilt free at the end of the day.
posted by phunniemee at 4:28 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Still up there—pathologist’s assistant. Six figures for a 35-hour week.
posted by 8603 at 5:23 AM on March 8, 2021

Member of a corporate board? You get six figures to attend catered lunches and vote.

Probably even less stressful is getting acqui-hired and then benched, Big Head style.

(On preview, maybe these don't meet your critera.)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:34 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

There is a size of company that needs to have in-house people with a range of IT skills, but which is not big enough to keep them all busy. So the remarks about programming above apply to other IT positions.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:35 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Don’t neglect the numerator. The tax implications of high pay also matter if you care about disposable rather than nominal income. I get ads for a anesthesiologist positions in the rural US making 500-600k on fairly tolerable 50ish hour weeks. I perceive dermatologists as having a similar if not higher ratio. There is an implied long period of training.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:45 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

IT jobs also don't require anything usually more than a bachelors (or even that), so barrier to entry (if you have the skills) isn't that high. Engineering school isn't easy or for everyone but (based on my experience) a Business/IT undergrad is sufficient and a lot easier.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:27 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Corporate board position ($100k+ for occasional meetings)
Executive at privately held, very successful company, you can essentially delegate all your responsibilities to the middle managers directly underneath you, cut your work down to a few daily meetings.
Some software engineering positions
Tenured professor at a B-school at a large, rich uni: delegate grading to TAs, re-use the same old lecture notes year after year, be a bad advisor to your grad students, and you get summers off for the cost of 4-6 hours (tops!) or so a day of lectures / grad seminars.
A ton of jobs in finance, the money makes itself!
Actuary - if you can get your analyses done quickly you can be "working on them (playing fortnite)" for a lot of time
posted by dis_integration at 6:28 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

My wife recommends prison guard for this, depending on how that camps schedule is structured. She worked like 13 days a month (because she perpetually had comp time, I think it was supposed to be 15) and 90% of the time, it was quiet (it's the 10% that gets you). The residents knew her, she knew the residents, everyone got along and left each other alone. It was mostly quiet, though of course, you never knew when something was going to happen.
(On the other hand, she does not recommend jailer for this - the jail is much busier than the prison, it's not the same folks day in and day out, you never know what to expect, and you're always hopping, especially if you're working the bond desk.)
posted by joycehealy at 6:33 AM on March 8, 2021

i was the victim of a drunk driver and my lawyer got 1/3 of my settlement for, as far as I can tell, writing a couple of emails negotiating with the drunk's insurance company.
posted by archimago at 6:46 AM on March 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

What about licensing a finance algorithm? Or writing a hit song and getting royalties for life?
posted by amarynth at 6:48 AM on March 8, 2021

A no-show job, surely!

The level of corruption and/or fraud required is an exercise for the reader.

On preview:
i was the victim of a drunk driver and my lawyer got 1/3 of my settlement for, as far as I can tell, writing a couple of emails negotiating with the drunk's insurance company.

A relative used to work for an attorney, and there's a big deal in that industry about attorney referral fees. My relative's boss once got a 6-figure check for connecting a client to a different attorney (basically 1/3 of the 1/3, I think?). Nice work if you can get it.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:57 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

A long time ago my friend had a job where they just needed a person to be at the facility all night in case there was a problem. But he didn't need to be awake -- he got paid to sleep there every night, except for about once a month he'd be woken up by an alarm and have to take care of things. So his work:salary ratio was close to infinite most of the time.

Urban firefighters have a pretty nice gig most of the time. In our city they work two 24 hour shifts every 7 days, if there are no calls, they can cook sleep and work out. They have a great benefits and great pay. There aren't a lot of house fires these days.

They do have a good schedule, but here they are all cross trained as EMTs so they get sent out for all of the minor (and major) medical calls, like someone collapsing in the checkout line or someone having an OD at a bus stop.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:01 AM on March 8, 2021 [6 favorites]

Urban firefighters have a pretty nice gig most of the time.

In my city they get sent out for all the car accidents, suicides, and a lot of the EMT calls too, so it's a job with a side of PTSD.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:07 AM on March 8, 2021 [9 favorites]

Most corporate jobs during the pandemic.

It turns out a LOT of corporate jobs are useless meetings, with little true output. Many corporations are doing away with most of those meetings, and since we aren't in person, it's very difficult to tell that employees aren't doing anything.

I believe that Finance and IT might have it the easiest on this front, but I work in "customer-facing sales" and I still barely do 5 hours a week. We just have one customer and we see them once a week.

For the true ratio, let's just say, 100K /1 hrs *261 days a year = $383/hr.

Dang... that's... not extremely high. My bosses bosses boss does a bit more work than me, maybe 10 hrs a week, for $275K / 2 hrs * 261 days = $527/hr. She's nothing more than me but with 20 years of experience.

I'm not sure I know anything higher than that that's consistent, though I'm open to the possibility, I don't see any listed above.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:53 AM on March 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

people use their (considerable and rare) skills to design something that is tricky to make, vitally important to a business and which seldom fails

I worked for a US television production company in college, helping with European sports broadcasts. I'm sure I'll get the technical stuff wrong, but basically all the equipment over there was set to capture and process stuff in PAL or SECAM. To show it in the US, it all had to be converted to NTSC. We had a French guy with some kind of magic box that transcoded it on the fly, so you could do live broadcasts without issue. He got there before the (2-week long) event, set up his stuff, and then hung out on site just in case the thing went down. I'm sure there was some urban legend mixed in but we heard that his salary was equal to the director's because they would have been dead if that machine ever failed. He had a nice hotel room and a driver and an expense account, and used to pour the crew a round of really nice red wine just after the final match each night.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:00 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

As a writer, I'm judged by the quality of my output, not the amount of time that is put in. The amount of actual work I have to do now is so tiny compared to most jobs because I just... tap tap tap and done.

I work in marketing so I get paid salary, no need for extra work trying to sell my writing or anything. This job could take a really long time to do or a really little time. I'm in the little camp.

I do have to sit in some dumb meetings though sooooo.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:23 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

On the low end, house/pet sitting can be easy and lucrative if you hook up with the right client (that lets you outsource the property management part)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:52 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Accounts Clerk in the hospitality industry No one there actually knows what you do, no one wants anything to do with you, because they know you will aske them awkward questions about invoices and if you're vaguely organized, and fast at data entry you can knock out a weeks work in a day, or in my case be start at 9 be done by 10.30 and chat to your friend & hang out in reddit all day. Keep a pile of invoices on your desk, face the door and be good at alt tabbing if the boss does stroll in. I used to read a lot of books online too. Plus side staff meals rock.
posted by wwax at 9:40 AM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

One of my friends in school had a summer job at a polymer manufacturing plant. His job was to sit in a booth at the railway siding. Once in every eight-hour shift, or perhaps not at all, a trainload of chemicals would pull into his siding. He had no warning when or whether the train was going to arrive. He would spend half an hour hooking up the hoses to unload the chemicals from the train. He spent the rest of the time listening to music, studying, and solving Rubik's cube.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:43 AM on March 8, 2021

The answer is resting and vesting.
posted by caek at 9:50 AM on March 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

The person who said firefighting is not wrong. I work for a small city and our average firefighter makes about $70k for 10 days a month of work, it's a unionized position, and you literally get paid to exercise. We will also pay your tuition to get a nursing degree so you can moonlight on your days off.
posted by notjustthefish at 1:21 PM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Real estate broker. Here in Berlin it is normal that the broker gets about 3,57% comission of the sales price. This is a random house in Berlin from Germany biggest real estate site. The house costs 600 000 € and the broker gets 22 000 €. For that he does one or two house tours with plenty of people, some follow up email, maybe another meeting after confirming the candidate, and that's it.

You don't need any kind of formal education to be a real estate agent, and if you manage to land a nice property the pay is spectacular. We bought a flat in a big apartment house, about 45 units, and out agent had a contract to sell all of them. I guess he got about 1.2 million € for that. With us, we had about 3 hours of interaction with him.
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 3:57 AM on March 9, 2021

My first thought was real-estate broker as well. A fee that might easily be $10-30k for both buyer and seller agent, and in a hot market that sale might only take a few days and involve little more than posting a listing on MLS, hosting an open-house, and a few calls/emails.

Another rather nontraditional job that crossed my mind - courier. I know a few professional couriers and their job is literally just going from Point A to Point B with the cargo and ensuring it gets delivered promptly and securely. Most of their time on duty is just sitting - either in an airport/cargo terminal or on a plane/boat/train/truck/etc so plenty of down time to read or do other things. Pay can be pretty good once you factor in overtime, and with the irregular hours there tends to be a ton of OT.
posted by photo guy at 12:12 PM on March 9, 2021

Leech courier. Travel with medical leeches, apparently around $1000 for a 3-4 hour trip here, for a bus trip that costs $50 with wifi. You do not have to feed the leeches and they're in room temp water.
posted by quercus23 at 3:10 PM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

The IT guy in my university department spent easily 90% of his time browsing the web. He had an MSC from the same department and the pay and benefits were presumably decent. Here's the thing though: he is indispensable.
posted by klanawa at 8:50 PM on March 10, 2021

« Older Help me block the noises from my terrible neighbor...   |   How do I find socks that fit? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.