Your Money or Your Life?

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Deloitte released a report last month on how tech companies could get and retain talent. It was fairly standard consulting company stuff, with the colorful graphs and specific figures that confirm what most of us already suspect about human resources: Everyone wants more smart people.

Toward the end of the report, the authors start trying to give businesses some hints on how to attract those smart people, and the report makes the claim the work-life balance will be a driving force in keeping workers happy. Actually, the Deloitte report makes clear that it dislikes the term "work-life balance," noting that "work-life balance ... often amounts to working less."

Instead, they place a great deal of emphasis on letting employees work hard on their own terms, which appears to mean schedules that are flexible when it comes down to where and when that work gets done.

The report all but says that flexibility will soon be more important than salaries and bonus, if it isn't already, which is a pretty remarkable claim. As we spiral into a recession (maybe), I'm guessing that strong work-life policies will be a nice-to-have, not a have-to-have, even for folks in easily mobile fields like technology. Sure, I've picked my last couple of jobs based in part on the flexibility they've offered, but the salary has come in at the right range, too, so I don't feel like I've traded earning power for the home office.

How about you: When it comes to looking for a new job, how much is flexibility worth to you? What kind of a pay cut would you be willing to take for the ability to skip the office or work a nontraditional schedule? And for those of you who already have that flexibility, what's the dollar amount you'd require to give it up?

By Brian Reid |  March 27, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Workplaces
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I worked 12 hour nights for almost 20 years, and it was worth its weight in gold. Now that I work a standard week, I find myself wanting to call in sick every 4th day. Having days off during the week was a godsend for errands and fun. While I don't miss the night schedule much, I would be willing to take a substantial pay cut to have at least one day off in the middle of the week.

Posted by: babsy1 | March 27, 2008 7:40 AM

I am not geared to home office life unless I need to focus on a big project without distraction. I am transitioning from private sector to fed next month... and compressed schedule was a huge draw. Luckily it didn't require a pay cut. :-) I made my decision knowing my income would rise at a slower rate -- but the benefits and flexibility outweighed any additional income from a private sector job.

Posted by: tntkate | March 27, 2008 8:30 AM

Since I can't give up the money or someone will be homeless or starve... I gave up my soul.

My husband is writing the exam for the apprenticeship program today. Please send good wishes my way. Should he pass the exam and the interview, the starting pay is almost twice what he is making now. After a couple of years in the program, we should be able to afford for me to transition to a job that isn't quite as soul sucking but naturally the starting pay is substantially less than I make now.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 27, 2008 8:45 AM

Speaking of work-life balance, Leslie, I thought you were on vacation -- so what are you doing blogging? :-)

Billie, sending good thoughts to your husband.

I'm lucky to be at a point where more time is more valuable than more money -- and at a job that lets me choose my balance (within reason). As a matter of fact, I'm currently debating whether I should drop down to 70% instead of 80% -- my daughter's going through a pretty stressful phase right now as school demands ratchet up; I hope that more mommy time will help, so I'm trying to figure out how much I can do under my current schedule vs. whether I need to change something.

The Deloitte approach, though, sends up some big red flags in my head. Yes, if the job allows it, getting rid of "face time" can help. But not everyone can (or wants to!) work 60+ hrs a week, even if they can do it in their jammies at home. Like, say, me. If a company doesn't want people like that, fine, their choice. But if you're really truly intersted in retaining talent (vs. just having "policies" that give good PR), then you need to meet talented people where they are, not where you want them to be -- and "don't worry, feel free to finish up those 17 reports at 2 AM after your kids are in bed" just won't cut it for a lot of people I know.

Of course, like Leslie notes, all bets are off once you hit recessions and layoffs.

Posted by: laura33 | March 27, 2008 9:30 AM

I dunno. For me, work-life balance does and SHOULD mean working less.

Why should I be expected to work 60 hours per week? I'd rather spend those extra 20 hours with my family.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | March 27, 2008 9:33 AM

Originally, I went back to work in part because I wanted to get 'out of the house' so to speak, and because I knew my DH was itching for something else. If I could get a good job with benefits, he could quit his, and start his own thing.
But, then he realized he could do his own thing on the side, and didn't really want to quit.
I told them at work that I would work part time or I would give my notice. At first they said: okay, we'll keep you part time (they'd already said with the pickup in workload that they would be hiring contractors). Now they're being wishy washy.

Fine with me - I have tons of things in the hopper, and if this doesn't work out, I have other things to do (really - we just bought investment property...and I have many opportunities to work part time elsewhere).

So for us, we have found that a two full time employee household isn't for us. And we're taking advantage of the fact that we don't have to work (but yes, we'll have to budget more!).

So I guess this is a timely post. I would love to work part time, I want to meet my son's bus when he gets off, I want to take him to activities, etc. I want to be there more. That's the way it goes. With a company that has zero part time employees, I kinda knew that it might be difficult (but I have a specific skill set, and as I mentioned, work will be picking up in a few months - so i figured it would be a win win...).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 27, 2008 9:37 AM

Oops, sorry, Brian -- that's what I get for not paying attention to the byline. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | March 27, 2008 9:49 AM

Laura - don't worry, when I read that I thought: oh, wait, maybe she just didn't take the whole week...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 27, 2008 9:58 AM

Time is much more important to me than money, but I recognize that that is a luxury. When the extra money would mean a bigger house and nicer vacations, I don't really care about it. If we were talking about grocery or health insurance money, obviously my choices would be different.

I am at-home now, but plan to go back to work part-time once my littlest ones are in school. I actually got my M.S. in part because it was in a field with a large number of part-time jobs. I probably won't work full-time again unless we really need the full income. Similairly, my DH works for the fed (rather than a contractor) largely because of the more limited hours and the job security. He could make more money working for a contractor, but it would mean he would be home a lot less.

Posted by: floof | March 27, 2008 10:04 AM

I just went to a seminar that featured the Deloite model, and it didn't seem anything like Brian described. They are incredibly committed to diversifying their workforce and retaining employees, and they are allowing for a ton of flexibility to make it happen.

Anywho, that's not the point of this blog.

I don't want to work over 40 hours a week. I'd prefer 32 hours. I'd be happy to be paid 80% for 80% of a week, but not less. My work isn't worth less per hour because I have a different schedule.

I HAVE to work at an office. I don't have the discipline to work at home.

Posted by: atb2 | March 27, 2008 10:27 AM

Brian said...As we spiral into a recession (maybe), I'm guessing that strong work-life policies will be a nice-to-have, not a have-to-have, even for folks in easily mobile fields like technology.

My reaction is that it depends on the company. Organizations who are results-focused realize that keeping good performers with a flexible schedule is more cost effective than losing those individuals and recruiting a replacement who may or may not perform as well just because the new employee agrees to terms such as you must do all your work in the office at set hours each day.

The point that gets lost in the conversation about workplace flexibility is that ultimately organizations only do it if it's in their best interest. And the way to truly determine their best interests is to focus on employee performance. If flexibility means your salespeople are making more sales, your customer service reps are answering more customer inquiries and your accountants are preparing better financial statements then the organization is going to retain the policy. But if flexibility is viewed as just another business expense it is going to quickly be rescinded when the organization tightens its belt.

So what I see is some organizations expanding flexible options while others take it away. Just depends on how the organization views the results they get.

Posted by: cm9887 | March 27, 2008 10:40 AM

This assumes that you are living within your means and can afford to exchange time / flexibility for income.
As a new parent, flexibility is key for me.
I work a 80 % schedule, mainly to stay above the 30 hr / week threshold to maintain full benefits. But I get paid at the same rate as I did when I was full-time (and have the leeway to work a full complement of hours if need be). Company continues to get productivity from me, doesn't lose whatever expertise / skills I have, and I get the flexibility to deal with school and daycare or anything else that might arise.
So far, haven't considered a dollar amount to give up the flexibility. It is difficult to express the sentiments of the Deloitte study (work hard but on a different schedule) to a potential new employer - i.e., most hiring managers / interviewers seem to assume that if you want "flexibility" that means you want to work less. In my case, I'd say no - that just means I'd rather work from 6am to 2pm, than 8/9 to 5/6/7.
(oh, and I'm pretty sure I fall squarely w/in Gen X - born 1973)

Posted by: robjdisc | March 27, 2008 10:49 AM

The jobs where you work more than 40 hours a week are usually the ones where you're very well compensated. (Obviously, there are some exceptions, though maybe not too many.) Lawyer, doctor, director, etc. There are sacrifices that come with climbing to the top, and one of them is your time. I don't know anyone who's making mid- to high six figures that doesn't work his/her a$$ off, with the exception of a writer or two, and they have other demons.

You can have it all, just not all at the same time. Knowing this has kept me grounded and able to adjust as needed in my career and elsewhere so I can make sure my priorities remain my priorities.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | March 27, 2008 11:05 AM

here here workingmomx! You can have money or time, but rarely both.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 27, 2008 11:09 AM

"I'd be happy to be paid 80% for 80% of a week, but not less. My work isn't worth less per hour because I have a different schedule."

Atb, I agree with most of your points, but you also have to look at it from your employer's perspective. The fact is, there are certain fixed costs associated with each employee that don't vary based on how much or how little they work -- office space, equipment, utilities, administrative help, sometimes benefits, etc., that kind of thing. So it's not really a question of work 80%, bring home 80% of the profit -- working 80% may well mean you bring in 20% or less of the profit.

I was pretty stunned when I became a partner and got a good look at the firm's books. We're what I'd consider a "reasonable" firm: rates are a little less than the big boys, billing expectations reasonable, we encourage flexibility, etc. And because of those things, we're never going to have million-dollar partners like the big boys. But as a practical matter, we need all of our lawyers to work at 80-90% in order to even turn any kind of a profit. So if everyone here opted for my "80% work for 80% pay" schedule, we'd pretty much go out of business.

Of course, that's all an average -- in reality, even my 80% turns a profit (partner = higher billing rate, while fixed expenses stayed about the same), while 100% of a very junior associate usually costs us money. But wouldn't I be a lot more valuable to my firm if I was at 100%? Because every additional hour I work over that 80%-90% baseline is pure profit.

This goes back to what cm said: ultimately, this will be a business decision for the company. It's great if a company wants to pay 80% for 80% of the effort -- we certainly think we come out ahead long-term in terms of employee retention, making individual schedule changes almost be "loss leaders." But at some point, a loss leader just becomes a loss -- if 80%/80% doesn't pay the bills, then you can't keep offering that in perpetuity. Companies won't offer flexibility if it cuts into their profits too much.

Posted by: laura33 | March 27, 2008 11:30 AM

I'm a nursing administrator, so I have to be here every weekday. If I could swap some weekend days for weekdays off, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Posted by: babsy1 | March 27, 2008 11:55 AM

I guess everyone figured no need to check back til next week...

My grandmother tells the story of how when the one factory didn't have work for her, she would go down the street to find work at another one. And then the old boss would ask her why - and she would answer that she needs to work cause she has to feed her kids. How far we've gotten.

Okay, so my grandmother exaggerated a bit - cause my mom while not 'rich' by any standards *was* the first on the block with many things, like a TV - and had madame alexander dolls, and had lots of fancy stuff. But my grandmother was used to working six days a week and so she kept doing it (she was also the person who yelled at the people who were trying to give her welfare after her husband died and she had two small kids. Back in those days, they came to your house to tell you what you could get. She never thought twice, she wasn't going to take anyone else's money - she never wanted to be treated like a charity case, and she could work, so she wondered why she wouldn't).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 27, 2008 2:09 PM

I think it is a no brainer that you would choose life over money. You only live once, money isn't everything, time is money, choose your own appropriate platitude.

All right, I put my money where my mouth is. I used to have a job with a somewhat flexible schedule and sometimes the opportunity to work at home instead of at the office--and always the opportunity to stay late, work on weekends, take work home, etc. I took a 10% cut in pay to take a job where I am expected to work a 7 1/2 hour day. I rarely take work home, rarely stay late (and then only 30 minutes or so), never come in early. I love my job, love my hours, love the schedule, which is *not* flexible. I don't love that money is way tighter than it used to be. And yes, it is grocery money that suffers when my kids go to the doctor ($15 copay for office visit, plus copay for any medicine). But I can proudly say that I can buy a small whole chicken for $5.00 or less and get 6 main dishes out of it (chicken curry, chicken pot pie, chicken soup for two nights, and chicken salad for two nights). I rarely buy beef (too expensive, not as healthy), rarely eat out, try to pack lunch for my children and me when possible. When I do need a cook's night out it is either sandwiches, frozen pizza or fast food (but no happy meals for the kids--chicken nuggets, shared fries, a hamburger for me). This has gotten tighter as gas and groceries have gotten more expensive. And I am much tighter with the milk than before--the kids drink how much they need, and for thirst drink water.

Sure, I'd like to be able to buy new clothes for myself and my children. I'd like to have a fun vacation that didn't involve printing motel coupons and taking food for picnic lunches. I'd like to go to Starbucks. I'd really like a bigger place to live. But I'm a single mom and I would rather have time with my family than those other things.

Posted by: janedoe | March 27, 2008 2:37 PM

I think it goes back to the bedrock that "less time = less work" Until that gets broken down, we're really stuck.

More flexibility does indeed mean less office time and less physical hours. But that doesn't mean less productivity and think of all the long term benefits...

(again, for those lucky enough to be flexible at all)

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | March 27, 2008 2:37 PM

janedoe: but you're doing the best you can and you're doing it out of love for your kids. They are bound to see that over a lifetime. It's tough, but you all have each other.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 27, 2008 2:57 PM

This is ironic because a friend of mine works at Deloitte and forwarded my resume to them, with this very report attached along with my resume. I work for a Deloitte competitor, and I'm lucky enough to work 3 days per week. Deloitte rejected my resume because they don't hire new employees on a part-time basis. While this is perfectly reasonable and was the reaction that I expected, I took it to mean that they think that OTHER organizations should offer flexible considerations, but they aren't prepared to walk their own walk. Guess I'll stay where I am because my firm has bent over backwards to create a situation where I will stay, though the money isn't the top of the market. I wouldn't give up my 3 day per week schedule for a, say, 10% pay raise. And I'd be hard-pressed to find a better situation at a competitor, just for more money. It's a very smart employee retention tool.

Posted by: amhass2002 | March 27, 2008 3:51 PM

Another aspect of "work-life balance" not directly mentioned here yet is job security. This can take the form of working for government (whether federal, state or local), becoming a partner in a firm, working under long-term contract, or getting tenure as an educator. One's pay rate may be somewhat lower than in at-will employment, but if a family can reasonably anticipate the likelihood of a member's continued employment (and pay) in return for doing one's job well -- e.g., an elderly lady I knew whose father had been a letter carrier who was able to work full time throughout the Great Depression, so could afford to send her to college -- that can also afford a type of work-life balance in terms of long-term financial planning, as well as in knowing what's expected in one's workplace.

Posted by: mehitabel | March 29, 2008 11:42 AM

Soooo... what are you people talking about, a 40 hour week? If I'm not mistaken, much of the DC area works 40 hours, but spends an additional hour of workday for lunch and probably has at least an hour of the day in commute. That's an extra 10 hours a week.

I work in jammies and fuzzy slippers from my home in a gorgeous mountain town. My commute is walking down the stairs to get a diet Coke from the fridge before I turn on my computer. I actually have a fairly important position, but it's never been suggested that I move to within 1000 miles of my IT team or the bosses in NoVa.

I usually have a sandwich at my desk, and I don't actually shower and dress until sometime mid-morning. (Thank goodness we don't do video conferencing.) The upshot is that my workday is usually done by 3:30 pm, and I'm already home. THAT'S work-life balance--not necessarily working less (I often clock 5-10 hours a week in paid overtime), but in allowing employees to either be at work or at home, instead of this quasi-work time suck of commute/lunch/etc.

Not every job allows it, true. But don't you think that should be something of a standard? There are few jobs that couldn't manage a day or two from home every week, even with everything else going on. And I will say that the home office is a rockin' tax deduction.

Posted by: krasni | April 1, 2008 1:07 PM

At this point in my life (no kids) I would gladly work over 40 hours a week for my company at my current salary if they would 1) let me pick what hours I work, the boyfriend works nights and I work days. or 2) work at least half of the time at home.

Later on when I do have a family, I can guarantee that my number one job decider will be flexibility. Family is incredibly important, and we'll never get the time back that we lose working ourselves to death.

Posted by: kallieh | April 1, 2008 3:02 PM

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