Reader question: Flexible, well-paid job or an interesting job?

Our reader question this week comes from a woman with two young children who works in technology. Her high-paying job allowed her to work from home full-time with flexible hours. In other words, she had what many parents would view as a dream set-up. The problem? It was “work I could do in my sleep at this point,” she says. She was bored. She was not feeling much opportunity for growth.

In the midst of this malaise, she took an opportunity to interview for a full-time position doing something different that sounded much more interesting to her. Lo and behold, she was offered the job. “The members of the team emphasized several times how their work-life balance on the team was WAY better than anywhere else they have worked,” she told me. She knew her direct manager and she “seems very cool,” with the higher ups having a good reputation as well.

The problem? It paid less. It involved working on-site, or in the words of our reader, “I have to go into the office daily like regular people.”

“I just cannot seem to decide between what sounds like a cool new job and losing the massive flexibility I have now,” she says. There was the matter of being around for the kids, and if she was not home during the day, “I cannot throw in a load of laundry/do dishes/etc. so all of that will need to happen after work or on weekends.”

“People would kill for this kind of flexibility, so I am wondering if it is stupid to think about giving that up,” she says. “But there is a part of me that wants to *love* work again. Who knows if I will find that in the new gig, but I know I will not in my current one.”

So she wanted to know: What would Laura do?

I agreed that flexibility and getting to work from home are awesome things. People are often willing to take large pay cuts to get these things, so the fact that she would be looking at a pay cut while giving them up was going to be hard to swallow. That said, I really do feel that work should be a source of joy in life.

I wondered if, rather than view this decision as interesting job vs. well-paying, flexible job, she could take a different perspective. A first point: These two positions are not the only ones on earth. If she could get one new job offer that easily, she could get another. She could keep interviewing until she found a high-paying, interesting, flexible position.

But a second, more important point: few job offers are set in stone. They can be negotiated. If she was offered a job, her potential employer really wanted her. So she had huge leverage. She could ask for more money. She could ask for flexibility. She could turn this job she was being offered into the job she wanted. (As a practical matter of approaching this negotiation, I would suggest asking for a LOT more money. Then when they could not give all of that to her, they would feel they needed to give something, so she could counter with some more money and a LOT more flexibility, which is often easier to grant as it is not something that directly affects a department budget. It would be understandable if they wanted her in the office for a period of time at the beginning, but she could ask for a 90-day review with the agreed-upon goal that she would be working from home 2 days per week at 6 months).

It took me a bit of time to respond to this email, so when I did, she replied that she had in fact done just this. She negotiated more money and asked for more flexibility, and got an agreement that at 6 months she would be working from home with some regularity. And, as she added, the commute was not going to be that bad. It was only a few minutes from her house! If she needed to pop home for some reason, she probably could. I just would not suggest doing so during the day to do the dishes.

14 thoughts on “Reader question: Flexible, well-paid job or an interesting job?

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this reader’s question, your response, and the outcome. Your point ‘These two positions are not the only ones on earth.” is a good one to keep in mind.
    Congrats to the reader for securing the job offer and negotiating what seems like a great balance for her and her family.

  2. Good for her in negotiating a unique arrangement. I have a boring job, but lots of flexibility. I use that flexibility to engage in some more enjoyable side work (blogging, freelance writing). I meet the requirements of my full-time job, but often break in into manageable chunks of time which extend over into the weekend. It’s all about finding out what works best for you and your personal situation.

    1. That’s exactly how my husband thinks, and I can definitely see the benefits to that work/life balance.
      I just took a peak at your blog, it looks awesome, and pretty

    2. @Harmony- that can work too. Though I’m curious, have you considered expanding the freelance writing business? Your blog is very good and you could certainly find places to write for.

      1. OMG, Laura Vanderkam likes my blog!!

        Oh, sorry, you had a question 🙂

        I would really like to do more writing. Scary Mommy just featured a post of mine on Tuesday. They pay for original content, so it was my first time really feeling like a freelance writer. It may have been just the validation that I need to take the next step. Now, I just need to figure out how to do that.

  3. My first thought was “could she combine both jobs?” It is not for everyone but I work two jobs because neither one covers everything I want to do, but together they form a dream job, even though it’s a bit stressful when things get busy. I work a few minutes away from home (both jobs) so I’ll do some housework on my lunch break instead of wasting my evenings. I took a pay cut at my primary job but negotiated shorter hours and more flexibility which allowed me to expand my duties at my second job and get additional compensation. Laura’s books were my inspiration in arranging this type of arrangement, and I’m so glad I did. It is amazing what’s possible when you ask.

    1. That’s really cool that her books inspired you to do that, and it really is amazing what can happen when you ask. It seems so simple, but for women I think its very novel, especially in the workplace.

    2. +1 for just asking 🙂 I got a great part-time arrangement after having my 1st child, on a team that had never had anyone work part-time and I continued that for 3 years.

  4. This is so interesting. My husband just took a new job 10 months after we relocated out of state for his prior job. I’m a former teacher/admin now SAHM pregnant with our second child and our three year-old has some developmental delays and goes to special education preschool twice a week (i.e. she requires more deliberate attention than a typical kid). His prior job was BORING and involved travel to less-than-safe locations with a security guard and driver (oh boy says the anxious wife!). The people were kind at his former job as were the benefits and shorter commute (30 minutes). In November he was recruited for a job and offered slightly better pay, much more interesting work, and work/life balance with flexibility, but sub-market benefits and an hour long commute. Since I will have no help when the baby is born (my father is paralyzed from a bicycle accident, my MIL has stage four cancer, and there’s no room in the one-income budget for childcare), he took the job with no travel but a bad commute. Guess what – he’s so happy when he’s home because he loves work again! This isn’t the exact same scenario as the reader above, but it’s interesting that he lost an hour a day to commuting (something you suggest avoiding in 168 Hours) and is still noticeably happier overall because the work is interesting and his skills are valued. I hope to hear more reader stories like this – I find it fasinating. Furthermore it opens my eyes to possibilities outside the classroom/principal’s office if/when I return to full-time work.

    1. @Anne- thanks for sharing your story. While I do think commuting is often a huge loss to the day, interesting work you enjoy can give you such energy for the rest of your life that it can totally be worth it. I really do think it is possible to have a better “balance” working 45 hours in something you like vs. 30 in something you don’t. Here’s hoping he can use the commute for some me-time (audio books?) and maybe even up the flexibility over time.

  5. I think you have given people like Anne and I a bit of hope with this post. I have two special needs kids, and have stayed at jobs that were not right for me because I didn’t think there were other options. There still is the corporate mentality that says “you need to be at the office to have a job”. The issue isn’t with the companies themselves, but with the willingness by the employees to accept that as gospel. I know I am guilty of it. I have started looking at other options, and letting go of the mindset that I need to be at work. Thanks for the push.

    BTW, this guy loved 168 Hours. It is helpful to us men as well.

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