The trade-off

Would you give up a week of vacation time and your 401K match to be able to work at home?

After being laid off recently, my choices were between a contract position and a “strategic career move” (or being unemployed while I continued to look, but as we all know, unemployment isn’t working, so I did not consider that at all).

With the contract position, my lifestyle would not change: I’d still work out of my home office. The job would be with a different team in the company where I worked for nine years, with a slightly different scope of work, with many of my favorite colleagues. The agency offered generous benefits, but there’d be no company match for the 401K and the paid time off would be one week less than I’d been accustomed to. The position would pay two percent less than what I had been earning, yet it would also be limited to 40 hours a week as opposed to the 50 or more I had typically been putting in.

The strategic career move would mean making another significant commitment to a multinational technology corporation with similar benefits to the job from which I’d been laid off – except I’d be expected to work onsite in an office.

It seemed like I would enjoy the work, though I came to realize it wasn’t as closely aligned to my strongest skills as determined through my career counseling (one of my separation benefits) as the work with the contracting opportunity.

I would also have to start from the ground up forging new relationships.

Even though people who are laid off don’t have the same bargaining power as employed people, it was possible I would be paid a modest percent more than what I had been earning (which I was sure would go hand in hand with variable hours over 40).

I’ll never really know, though, because after receiving an offer from the contract agency and discerning that there was no way I would choose going to an office over not going to an office, I put the brakes on the strategic career move offer (that I had been assured was “in approver workflow”) and accepted the contract position without looking back.

Many people do not understand my decision.

“How much of an increase would have made it worthwhile to take the strategic career job?” one of my former colleagues asked me. I can’t say this thought didn’t cross my mind. It would have had to be enough to cover a current working-outside-of-the-house wardrobe (because I have not done that since 2006), doggie daycare for our three dogs, increased gas and car maintenance costs, and some sort of chauffeur service for my kids who have things to do after school. Then there are the opportunity costs of not being able to do laundry, Swiffer the floors, or get dinner started while I was on conference calls, never mind actually being nearby for my kids. And I couldn’t put a price on all that.

“But your kids are old enough now to be by themselves after school.” I was told. Yes, they are, but does that mean they should be if I have a choice? Never mind after school, we wouldn’t have time to hang around together at breakfast. This is typically our family time since someone always has “something” in the evenings (for example, right now it’s baseball). It wouldn’t just be me who has to think about lifestyle changes, it would be all of us.

How much of that extra week of paid time off with the strategic career position would be used up for days when my kids were home from school when I couldn’t go into someone else’s office? How much more valuable would my time off from the contract job be—even though there’s less of it – if I didn’t feel compelled to check in with work during it?

“How nice that you found something you can do while you’re looking,” someone else commented. Who said I would continue to look? I may very well be happy enough doing the work I like with people I like for only 40 hours a week, which means I have more time for personal endeavors, such as taking classes (another separation benefit).

My career counselor told me I have reached the point where I can afford to be “selfish.”

If choosing to do energizing work (that which is aligned with the skills I most enjoy using) for an average work week (where I can shut off the laptop during weekends or other time off) – at home – is “selfish,” so be it.

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