One of the reasons why I left corporate America was because there was a disconnect between pay and performance. It didn’t matter how well you did, everybody got paid the same (poorly). It didn’t feel right to slack off so I made a move instead. I took a chance that 2012 compensation would be abysmal, and from the discussions I’ve had with friends in the finance industry, 2012 was indeed a piss poor year.
“You did great, but it was a bad year to have a great year,” is a favorite line of a manger looking to console a disappointed employee. The manager will then go on and promise an employee how the next year will be better in order to keep an employee’s hopes up just so he can get underpaid again. You can only fool an employee a couple times before he decides to say sayonara. You can read more about other ways employers manipulate employees.
The most valuable asset we have is our ability to work for a living. It sounds a little sad, but it’s true so don’t forget to review your short-term and long-term disability coverage. I would guesstimate around 60% of my net worth is directly due to the aggressive saving of my income over the past 14 years. The other 40% of my net worth comes from capital appreciation. When compensation is declining, it doesn’t feel bad to take yourself out of a job, especially if you have the financial means to do so.
Conversely, when compensation is increasing, it becomes harder to sit on the sidelines as everybody but you gets rich again. This feeling can be attributed to greed, as well as the feeling of not wanting to get behind. A powerful V8 engine just isn’t the same when only six pistons are firing.
THE PROS OF GOING BACK TO WORK IN A GOOD ECONOMY
* Human interaction. I enjoy interacting with good people on a daily basis. When you’re working from home it gets lonely sometimes. Despite all the office politics, I know I will enjoy getting to know new folks in the workplace. Now that league tennis season is back in full swing, I’ve got a regular group of people I can compete with every other day for the next several months at least.
* Free travel. Besides the daily camaraderie of folks in the office place, there is potentially travel involved. By the time I retired, I was sick of travel. But now that I haven’t traveled extensively for over a year now, I wouldn’t mind getting on a plane to Portland or LA or somewhere overseas. The best feeling is when you get to go to a new place, learn a lot, have fun, and pay for nothing. The flight delays and travel time aren’t so bad anymore now that wifi is ubiquitous. My iPhone 5 is the best time killer in the world.
* A replenishment of capital. I’m like my friend Jaabir now, poor (but slightly better looking). Starting in 2013, I will no longer be able to save more than 50% of my after tax income because 2013 will be the first year where I completely earn $0 W2 income. It’s all about surviving on passing income now, which is somewhat daunting but thrilling at the same time. Although you don’t have to save for retirement when you are retired, the conservative side of me always likes to save a lot for the future. The habit of saving is in my blood, no matter how rich or poor I become.
* Colleagues are nicer. Although money is in many ways evil, people tend to be nicer when they are feeling fairly compensated. People are also less insecure because they’ve probably got that promotion as well. During the recovery from 2004-2007, I remember colleagues randomly buying lunches for the department due to some big win. During the 2008-2011 downturn people turned off their happiness because colleagues were getting laid off left and right. Misery is no fun.
* Potentially cheaper and better benefits. The benefits of a job besides a salary should not be taken for granted. Company 401k match and profit sharing really add up over time. My last year of work saw a $27,000 match + profit sharing contribution for example. Health care is heavily subsidized by the employer’s group plan, however, thankfully there are now plenty of affordable health insurance alternatives I’ve found for the unemployed. Employer sponsored life insurance, paid work leave, education reimbursement, and sabbatical sponsorships are also other benefits not to miss.
* Better correlation with performance . When times are good, there’s a tighter correlation with performance and pay. A meritocracy is all I want. If I suck at work then don’t pay me. I don’t want what’s not mine. But if I’m a top performer, please pay me like you care. When times are good, the pay band increases. Unfortunately, finance is a very cyclical business which has seen a 30%-50% structural pay decline since 2007. Just like how you don’t want to miss the first few years of a market rally, you don’t want to be unemployed for the beginning of a bull market.
THE CONS OF GOING BACK TO WORK
* Office politics. Office politics is something I dislike most about work. It was obvious when nepotism was involved. All you’ve got to do is notice a trend of who your manager or other managers hire. The worst managers are the ones who hire people who all look and talk like themselves. I also don’t like the various turf wars that inevitably comes up. I’m a “one team, one dream” type of guy, unless you really screw me over. Then it’s game on!
* The commute. I cannot stand the bus system in San Francisco because the drivers are always late, and there are never enough buses to go around. It doesn’t feel good to be a sardine for 15 minutes while some fella who hasn’t showered for days lets out a nasty fart in your direction. I’m also too poor or stingy to pay $400 a month for parking to go to an office just three miles away. That just sounds ridiculous to me.
* Decreased freedom. When I do something I am focused to the max. I give everything I got to my employer because that is what is expected. There is no half-fast effort with me when the correlation between performance and reward is tight. I am a relentless competitor who enjoys going into battle to win one for the team. I won’t let a lack of effort be the reason for my defeat as that’s the one thing I can control. There will be a lot of late nights as I demonstrate my worth the first year.
* Less time for writing. Writing is very cathartic. Writing helps me think things through and the community often highlights angles I would have never thought about. If I spend 12 hours a day at the office, there’s a good chance the thoroughness of my articles will decline. I’ll still publish at least two articles a week. They just might not be as meaty as you or I would like. This might be a good chance to adopt a different writing style based on brevity.
* More stress. I used to grind my teeth and have a slight case of TMJ (sore jaw due to clenching) when I was working. Within a month after I stopped working my grinding and soreness went away. I’m pretty sure stress cuts lives short by causing all sorts of physical problems. Hopefully by changing my expectations of work, I won’t put so much pressure on myself that I no longer want to work again.
* Supporting a wasteful government. The more you work, the more you will do the government’s bidding. The average person spends three months a year working to pay their annual tax bill. It’s often better to make less money to spend less time working for the government for free and more time enjoying life.
WOULD YOU RETURN TO WORK IF YOU DIDN’T NEED THE MONEY?
You’d think this emerging desire to go back to work stems from the typical “the grass is greener” syndrome. The problem is I’ve already been on the other side and have written extensively about the wonderful experience of early retirement and the security of being financially independent.
I’ve always enjoyed work at least 70% of the time. What I absolutely dislike is the lack of correlation between performance and reward. This is part of the reason why I’m hesitant to work for the foreign service or take on any type of federal job (can’t beat ’em, join ’em). The small and rigid promotion scale would feel so demoralizing. Can anyone seriously get pumped up over a 3% raise?
There’s a part of me who really believes work will be so much more fun because I don’t need the money. Imagine working solely because you enjoy the challenge and love the camaraderie. Imagine not carrying so much about how much you make, but by whether you see progress. I think I’d love it. However, I don’t know for sure because I’ve never been in such a situation.
Perhaps not needing more money to survive is why I love to write online. It’s gratifying to finish writing a 1,500 word article and pressing publish because of the feedback from all of you. Seeing immediate results is a perpetual feedback loop. If I start writing for the primary sake of making money, I’m sure I’d probably quit Financial Samurai a long time ago!
Update 2H2016: I decided to do a hybrid approach and be an independent contractor from November 2013 to present, working 20-25 hours a week. It’s been a great balance!
Start your own business: One of the best ways to make more money is to take matters into your own hand and start your own business online! It used to cost a fortune and a lot of employees to start your business. Now you can start it for next to nothing with Bluehost. Brand yourself online, connect with like-minded people, find new consulting gigs, and potentially make a good amount of income online one day by selling your product or recommending other great products. Not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for starting Financial Samurai in 2009. I have maximum freedom now thanks to working on my side-hustle while working for 2.5 years. You never know where your journey will take you!
Photo: Good times at the airport security line! FS.