Work-Life Versus Cold Hard Cash

My previous post, “When Your Job Becomes Your Prison” seemed to hit a bit of a nerve with some of you out there, and I am grateful for the comments and sad to see that so many others recognized themselves in what I said. I concluded the article by saying that I am determined to avoid making the mistakes I made when I found new employment. Well, that day is here. Or almost.

A few weeks ago, I had my first job interview in nearly 18 years. I didn’t get a call-back, which despite all my best intentions of having low expectations and seeing it as valuable interview practice, left me a little downcast. Especially when the feedback came, wherein I was told that they liked me and I had the skills, but they had applicants with more experience.

Today went a little better in my second interview. Driving home afterward, I stopped for a coffee an hour into my journey. While sitting there I got the phone call offering me the job. Now comes the part that puts all of the talk to the test. You know the talk like “It is not about the money, it is more about work-life balance,” and “I want a place that will give me a challenge.” Because in the first case, the money is about 10K less than I was getting in my previous job.  And in the second case, because the network I’ll be taking over is fairly small potatoes compared to what I’m used to – it is primitive to say the least – and the job is to essentially to treat the place as a greenfield and start from scratch.

So, will I be compensated with a better work-life balance? Hard to say. As I pointed out in my previous post, the issues I had in my last job were more about me than the job itself, although the environment did contribute. But this organization I interviewed with is a non-profit, working in the social services area. The people I met there all seem happy and kind, and based on the kind of difference they make to peoples’ lives, I can totally see how that can make the place a nice one in which to work. So maybe, yes, there is the possibility of a positive work-life dynamic here, but I have to work hard to help myself to achieve that.

As I sit here and type this, I haven’t said “yes” yet. I am going to sleep on it, but most likely I will accept. Only time will tell to see if it works out the way I hope it will. Less cash, but a happier life?

Matthew Mengel
Matthew was a Senior Network Engineer for a regional educational institution in Australia for over 15 years, working with Cisco equipment across many different product areas. However, in April 2011 he resigned, took seven months of long service leave to de-stress and re-boot before becoming a network engineer for a medium sized non-profit organisation. At the end of 2013, he left full-time networking behind after winning a scholarship to study for a PhD in astrophysics. He is on twitter infrequently as @mengelm.
Matthew Mengel

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  • Robert Juric

    Can you live on 10k less in pay? If the job is less stressful and you think you’ll enjoy it, I don’t see a problem with taking a job that earns less money. As long as it fits and it’s what you want. 

  • Fernando Montenegro

    Let me copy a comment I used on this site before:
    —- BEGIN —-
    [...] As someone who works on the ‘vendor side’ of the table, I define my criteria as:- I am working with technology I believe in: it is offering real value to my customers and it is something that interests me.- I am working with the type of customers/projects that interest me.- I like the people I’m working with: they’re professionals that I can rely on to do their part of the job, they’re at the right level of experience to either teach me something or willing to learn from me and they’re nice/fun/agreeable people to be around.- I am satisfied with my overall compensation, including earnings, work/life balance, set of benefits, …Then I try to balance all four requirements. One of them being off for a while is OK, as long as not *too* bad. Two of them being off, I start to take more interest in recruiter calls. Three or more and you know what happens…Notice a lot of “I” in there. Everyone will be different…—- END —- 
    Taking this into consideration, a job paying less but giving me the work/life balance and access to people, technology or projects I want would be OK, as long as it is not so much less money that it actually makes a difference.
    Another way of thinking is:
    10K “top line” means, after tax, say maybe 7.2K (just to make the math easier). Spread over 12 months, that is 600/month, or 20/day (or 30/workday). Is it worth it to you? Only you can answer that.
    I *do* have a good work/life balance arrangement and for me I can see that cost as justifiable, thinking of all the things I am able to accomplish (work and ‘life’) on my own schedule.

    As always, YMMV…

    Best of luck!

  • http://twitter.com/bobmccouch Bob McCouch

    Like you are contemplating, I moved from a high-paying but very demoralizing “prison-style” job to one that paid a good bit less but promised a much different work-life balance. For me, it was a no-brainer. I took about a 17% pay cut when I moved. But my commute went from over an hour to about 2 minutes. I gained relatively generous flexibility in work hours (given a customer-facing role) and lost nearly all on-call requirement. I’m able to spend much more time with my young children (well, until I got on the road to CCIE, that is…).

    After nearly 4 years at my new company, my pay is nearly back up to where it was, and I still enjoy all the perks I gained when I came here. 

    In the process I learned that, indeed, money isn’t everything.

  • ktokash

    Fights are won in the gym.

    ^ What I mean by that is the decision to take less money for a better job starts years before the offer letter arrives.  Specifically I’m talking about your lifestyle choices.  If you live beneath your means for 5 years, taking a 5-10% pay cut to work somewhere fulfilling won’t be much of a sacrifice.

    Unfortunately this is a difficult lesson to keep hold of in our advertisement-laden, consumer society.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=894140183 Evan Weston

    It really comes down to making a list of pros and cons.

    For myself having moved from an integrator to an enterprise 18 months ago I have learned:

    Integrator:
    - Timesheets, utilisation and managing how many chargeable hours you can work.
    - On average much greater than 40hrs a week.
    - Lots of travel = unhappy wife.
    - Constantly fixing things is good for your self esteem.
    - Get to play with the latest and greatest products and equipment.
    - Can have an unlucky run of projects that are just network janitor type things.
    - Can be frustrating doing projects that are just no good but are what the customer wants.
    - No Politics – or very little and you always walk away at the end of the engagement.
    - Pays a bit more but you work more.
    - Professional development was hard when required to make all your time billable.

    Enterprise:
    - 40hr weeks!
    - Flexible working hours encouraged – work from home sometimes, leave early to pick up/drop off kids at school etc.
    - Politics – can really stress you out in a multi vendor environment. With an integrator you are usually only involved after the politics are finished.
    - Pays a bit less but you work less.
    - Less new equipment to configure.  Less exposure to the latest and greatest. Need to actively keep up with what is going on outside your little world – study, reading etc.
    - More time for professional development – much easier to manage time while attaining a CCIE while working at an enterprise in my opinion.
    - More time to do things outside of work. Family, hobbies, study, whatever.
    - Virtually never called at home – though this is likely different in other enterprises.
    - Usually provided with a nicer work space, big monitors, nice chair etc. Treated like a valued employee rather than a mercenary.