When to Take a Pay Cut

When you weigh the pros and cons of a job role, you consider various factors: responsibilities, work culture, professional development opportunities, benefits and salary, for example. Additional perks sweeten the deal, such as generous vacation days and bonuses.

How many times do you weigh your own well-being into the job acceptance equation? Hardly ever is the likely answer. You want to accept a job that provides stability and security with opportunities to advance.

That’s not always the reality once you accept a job. You end up working long hours only to burn out and can’t afford to spend time with your family, much less take care of yourself. These are signs you need a change. Sometimes, though, that change comes at the expense of a lower salary.

Here are four times you may consider taking a pay cut for a good reason:


You’re Switching Careers

You feel stuck and need a career change. Career switches add an exciting element to life as you move from what you know into a new field. You work hard to train and learn the ropes while feeling enthused about starting a new career and the promising changes it brings to your life.

Starting out in a new career comes with a few drawbacks. You may feel rushed to learn all you can quickly to secure a role in your new field. If moving from account management to marketing, for example, expect to take a pay cut as a part of switching careers. As your experience level grows, so will your salary.


You’re Burned Out

Do you return home feeling completely drained after work? Is there an after work? When you keep working to the edge of your mental, emotional and physical limits, you risk burning out, and burning out at work increases your risk of heart disease due to stress, inactivity and indulgence in negative coping mechanisms such as smoking and alcohol.

About 42 percent of workers link irritability with stress at work, and pushing through the experience doesn’t help. Healthy coping mechanisms, such as walking it off or phoning a friend, alleviate stress, but long-term tactics are also needed. In the short term, developing healthy coping mechanisms allows you to manage stress but will not eliminate it completely if you keep pushing hard. You need to dig out the root to eliminate the cause.

In the long term, you realize that you need a different job without as many demands to regain your health and sanity. You must realize that such a job will usually pay less, but when it comes to your health, the tradeoff is worth it in the end.

To Achieve Work-Life Balance, for Real

When career takes too much out of your life, something must change to shift the elements back into balance. You may want to spend more time with family or on living your life to the fullest, but can’t find the time. Flexibility and fewer hours at work are two goals that will help you achieve work-life balance and reduce your stress levels.

The definition of what’s considered full time varies depending on the source. Most people think of the traditional 40-hour workweek while others count at least 30 hours as full time, such as when it comes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Salaried exempt employees can work 30 hours each week to 168 hours — it varies that widely, and most people work over 60 hours. The workload differs among salaried exempt employees, who aren’t eligible for overtime the same way nonexempt employees are to be paid for working over 40 hours a week.

So, don’t count on overtime to fill in the pay gap if you accept an exempt position and you were previously employed in a nonexempt position. The lower number of hours will typically indicate a pay cut, but doesn’t necessarily serve as the rule.

Still, fewer hours and a flexible job role enable you to spend more time on what matters to you. If considering flexibility, look to remote work options and flexible scheduling, which will often come with a lower wage. Sometimes, employers will offer other beneficial tradeoffs for lower pay, such as increased vacation time. While you’ll have to plan around the pay cut, you’ll achieve your goal of a better work-life balance.

You Want to Work for Yourself

Working for yourself comes with many risks and rewards. The risk of failure hangs over newborn businesses in the first few years, as they struggle beyond survival to a thriving status. Many startups earn their success through being run by a knowledgeable professional who knows the ins and outs of a particular industry, but you may want to jump ship to the waters of a whole other kind of business.

Expect to take a pay cut as you navigate the waters of running your own business, whether that’s as a consultant, painter or head honcho of a micro-lending firm. Allow yourself enough to get by and cover your health insurance costs while meeting your business needs — it’ll take at least three to six months to break even in the first year. Later, you can analyze your overhead costs and decide upon a raise.

Give yourself permission to bring home less money. Stereotypes and associations with status are sometimes ingrained so subtly into people’s minds that they feel guilty about taking a pay cut to make their lives better. Accepting less money to lead a healthier and more satisfying life does not make you selfish in a negative way, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be destitute, either.

It’s OK to take a pay cut when you’re not satisfied with your career, experiencing financial challenges, feeling burned out or want to achieve a better work-life balance. It’s especially expected when you start a new business. Take the pay cut to make the rest of your life flourish.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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