The Pros and Cons of Working Less

Would you work less if you could handle it financially? According to the latest State of Engagement Survey from Gallup, 70% of workers don’t like their job. I’d guess that more than 70% of us wouldn’t mind spending less time at the office. However, middle income households usually do not have this option because they need all of their paychecks to pay the bills. If you asked me 10 years ago, I would never have considered working fewer hours for less money. I like money and I thought I liked to keep busy with a job. However, things changed and I decided that life would be better off if I worked less.

would you work less hours for less pay? pros and cons of working less
I was going to use Andy’s escape from The Shawshank Redemption here, but Mrs. RB40 reminded me that I don’t want to get sued…

It’s been over a year since I left my engineering career and we are doing OK financially. I became a stay at home dad/blogger and my productivity is through the roof. Taking care of a little kid is quite time intensive, but it’s very satisfying. Sure, we have some rough times at home too, but I still much prefer it 1,000 times more than going to the office.

Being a blogger is not that easy, either. It takes a lot of time to write, to maintain the website, and to network. It’s still a lot more fun than my old job and I’m much more engaged with the process. Blogging is equivalent to a half time job and I really enjoy it. The online income is also more than I imagined. It’s still only about a quarter of what I was getting paid though (not counting benefits.)

At first glance, you probably think this guy is terrible at math. Why would anyone work 50% less and get paid only 25% of their previous job? Well, life isn’t all about money. There are a lot of reasons why I quit my stressful engineering career. Basically, I hated it and it was hastening my demise. There are a lot of intangible benefits that come from going it alone, too. Let’s look at the pros and cons of my experience.

Pros of reducing working hours

Less Stress – I made a pretty big career change as well as reducing my hours. I went from a stressful job I didn’t like to doing something fun that takes less time. I was stressed out and unhappy all the time when I was an engineer. Now, I’m rarely stressed and our family is much better off that way. For most people, I imagine that working less would help reduce stress even if you work in the same job.

More Free Time – We all have limited time and should we really spend so much of it at work? Working less enabled me to be a stay at home dad and I’m very thankful for the opportunity. Raising a kid is the experience of a  lifetime. It’s not fun and games all the time, but even the tough times will be memorable. We’ll laugh at all this craziness when Jr. is an adult.

Self Employment – I love self employment. I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s perfect for me. I can set my own priorities, go at my own pace, and don’t have to answer to anyone. That’s Freedom, Baby! I felt like Andy from The Shawshank Redemption when I finally left my old job.

Doing Something I Like – Life is really crappy when you’re doing something you don’t like for 8-10 hours a day. Now I can do something I like and life is much better. I’d probably settle for doing 50% less of something I don’t like if I had the option. Most employers don’t like that, though.

The downside of working less

Less money – Generally, if you work less hours, you’ll make less money. As mentioned above, I’m only making about 25% of what I was making at my old job. I really only planned for 10% though, so 25% was quite a bonus. Here is a survey. What is the lowest level of pay would you accept for working 50% less?

Poll closed

less pay for working less

Fewer Benefits – My old corporate employer provided quite a nice benefit package. I do miss the 401(k) matching, health insurance, life insurance, sick days, workout room, yoga, and free fruit in the cafeteria. That’s the price of self employment, though. I think most corporations would also cut a lot of their benefits if an employee transitions to half time. Please comment if you have any experience here.

Less Socialization – The work environment gives us a lot of opportunities to socialize. My social life is pretty slow now, but I’m quite fine with that. If all your friends are at work, it probably would be difficult to transition to self employment or cut back your hours. For those of us who are introverts, it’s probably not a big deal.

Promotions might be tough to come by – If you’re looking for promotions or a big pay raise, then it’s probably best to stick with full time employment. Your boss would rather promote someone who’s available at all hours. It will also be tough to get good high profile assignments if you’re not working full time. All in all, going to half time probably isn’t a good career move if you intend to stay in the same industry.

The hours creep up – Many engineers at my old company, spent way more than 40 hours/week at work. I know one mom who went to part time and she still worked more than she signed up for. It’s tough to keep to half time with a demanding employer. To be honest, I spend way more than 20 hours/week on my laptop. I just don’t count all that time I spend goofing off as work anymore.

Working less is great if you can pull it off

At this point in my life, working less is the best choice for me. I’m not ready to stop working completely yet, but I don’t want to work full time anymore. Luckily, we can handle it financially even with a big 75% pay cut. Our net worth is still slowly growing and we can make ends meet every month. Of course, more money would be better, but the benefits outweigh any downsides for me.

How about you? Would you work less if you could? 

photo credit: flickr Josef Grunig

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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56 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Working Less”

  1. Have read this many years ago and never thought it would be possible.

    Have 3 years to retire but really thinking of retirement in a year.

    Will loose some money but who cares, I will finally be free ?????

    Thank you for sharing your story it is an inspiration.

  2. Today I wouldn’t want to work less. This is because I love my job and I think it’s extremely important and rewarding.
    However, In previous job that was a demanding High-Tech job, I decided to go down to 80% than 60% and finally 40% after realizing I really don’t find it enjoyable in any way. Now two interesting things happen:
    1. It opened my mind to the possibilities of actually doing things that I love instead of enslaving myself to death. I mean, the idea of giving up some of my earnings to free time was very weird for me at that time – and I find it even harder when you are working in a high-paying job (Instead of laying in the bed late today you could have earned another couple hundred bucks!). It’s only when I reversed the perspective from thinking about what can I earn to what do I want to do and how much money do I need for it that I started enjoying the new situation. And once you get used to it you realize how great it is. I wrote about this process in greater details in my blog (
    2. I actually started to love my job again! When I wasn’t there any moment from 8-18, and really having my tongue out – I started loving again the tech challenges and riddles that I could solve. All of a sudden it wasn’t burden but something fun. Today, I still am consulting them from time to time on a freelance basis, even though I no longer work there.

  3. I am actually the opposite, I wish I could work more! It’s extremely hard for me to find a job locally, that is why I started my blog. While my blog is nice, I still have a gas guzzling car and a girlfriend that I drive over 80 (combined) miles to see each week. It’s just hard to get a steady job as an 18 year old going to school and involved with church.

  4. I would think the time spent with your family is easily worth more than whatever you were making at your previous job. I feel pretty fortunate that my current job hasn’t been too stressful. That could change if we get a high profile case to work on down the road. For now though, I get the knowledge that when I leave work, I’m done. I’ve had previous jobs where I’ve had to bring work home to make a deadline. That was never fun and I don’t wish to go back to that.

  5. Even though I only work the standard 40 hours a week with no overtime, I still feel like there is not enough time in the day. Well there is the 1 hour and change commute each way which eats up more of my day. And with a newborn…time is precious so I’d definitely like to be home more. I think the main reason my wife decided to go back to work was because money would be tight with one income. If money was out of the equation, I think there would be many other things we could try to explore.

  6. The biggest problem is social life I find. Without a job, you have less friends naturally. This is why it’s key to join a gym. I attend classes at my gym throughout the day and have made tons of friends this way.

    • There are many non-profit groups for you to volunteer in to find friends. Depending on your interest you will find people of the same taste at the organizations you choose

  7. Self employment, free time, and doing something I like are all reasons I got into blogging. I’m hoping I can start to make some decent income off of it in the future so I can someday be a stay at home mom/blogger. I don’t care to make much, just enough. The freedom of being at home and being on my time is a worthwhile trade off.

  8. I’d love to work less, but going to half time is not really an option where I work. Plus, financially, we aren’t in such a position to handle that yet. I know I would enjoy taking the plunge (once everything was in place to do so) and leave the corporate rat race although I must admit going through with the actual decision to do so must be pretty nerve-wracking.

      • 5 months ago I decided to quit my job in recruiting/sales to just take a break. While on break, I realized that I could swing parttime as my spouse has a good income and we are thrifty. I just started my 20 hours a week job at a local nonprofit where I can bike to work (v the old 1.5 hour commute each way)!!!
        This gives me so much freedom to work on fun projects, spend time with family, and honestly just tootle around. I now take home so much less but its %100 worth it. If anyone is on the fence, I’d say that when you remove most of the stress you IMMEDIATELY spend less on “fluff.” I previously felt the need to treat myself often and now when I do buy something new I really enjoy it…instead of buying compulsively because I’m tired and angry.

        It makes me so happy that this idea is spreading! A shorter week is probably going to be the future in some industries.

  9. In the beginning it won’t really be working less, but just doing something I love. What I will probably miss is the social interaction I will have with the people I work with, but it’s a small price to pay for being able to do what you want and eventually, be able to spend more time working less, but achieving more.

    • Good luck! I’m sure when you’re fully self employed, you’ll be working even more. It’s hard to draw a line when it’s your own business.

  10. At this point of time, I would need a normal salary, full time benefits like health insurance, 401K, etc. I started working a bit late (around 30; was in grad school for 6 years after I moved to US); I am around 40 now and would like to work anywhere another 12 – 14 years or so to gain financial independence. As a rough ballpark number, I am aiming my retirement around an age of 52 – 54, which is early compared to US standards (but not that early considering many members in this blog!!). I like my work and I am hoping to get the best return (both in terms of job satisfaction and monetary benefits) out of it, until I start disliking my job or the job becomes somewhat repetitive.

    However this (along with a few previous ones as well) article has given me a different perspective of retirement. Instead of quitting work abruptly, I can explore the option of gradually reducing my # of hours and also settling for a lower salary before retiring completely. I can start reducing my # of work hours (be a consultant vs. a full time employee) as I near my estimated retirement age, though doing so might require me working a couple of more years than anticipated. However, the stress of work might be greatly reduced if I am not working full-time and that might also help me endure a few more years of work without significant pain. In this scenario, I can also choose the # of hours depending on my need, work on projects that I am truly interested and maybe even work remotely at my desired location/s (which is not very uncommon in software related consultancy projects).

    Lets see how things shape up for me in the next 8 – 10 years; that will probably dictate the future path. Another great article!

    • Good luck with your plan. It’s tough when you get started later, but it’s great that you like your job. There is really no reason to quit if you like what you do. Reducing hours is a great way to ramp down a bit.

  11. At this point in my life I can’t imagine working less. I suppose one situation I could see is if I was making a sizable amount online (okay, a ton of money online) and wanted to dedicate more hours to that versus focusing on my career. In that specific case I would consider working part-time. It would give me the benefit of still having a corporate finance job on my resume and being able to work with various software, data, etc. that I otherwise would not be able to while at the same time allowing me to give more time towards my growing small business.

  12. I am working less! As a teacher, I work considerably less than I used to work. I recently looked at a full time, non teaching position with the school district and I would have to take an hourly pay cut. The irony is I would make $40-50K a year more. I do not want to sacrifice my freedom at this point in my life. I enjoy teaching too much.

  13. I know I could very well approach my overseers and request being taken off of salary, and put into the hourly worker pool – that would make it easier to take more time off. As it is , I get three weeks holiday per year as a salaried employee. Not near enough of course.

    But I have chosen to keep on working full time for now because my wife and I are saving more every month than we ever have. Every month I can stomach working this job is adding another 7k to our ER pool. Tough to walk away from this, but of course I will eventually, hopefully 2014. Once my taxable investment account reaches a certain “number”, I will be giving my notice shortly thereafter.

    Whether or not it is true ER, since like Joe my wife will continue working for a few more years, is another matter. But not one I will lose sleep over. 😉

  14. I would definitely want to work less for less pay. Even if I get to stay at my company and just work from home, that would be great. The commute is killer, and I think that’s a huge reason why I’d like to leave. If I didn’t have to commute, then maybe I could stay.

  15. I have a very good job that pays very well. Unfortunately, our upper management is falling apart with the retirements of the company founders. I would be happy to work part time just to get away from the politics. But instead, I will work my butt off to get more pay adn get to my retirement as fast as I can.

  16. Call me crazy, but I’d prefer to work less for more money… 🙂

    As much as I learn working for myself, there’s no beating the stimulation of engaging, challenging work with a group of people you trust and respect. It’s easy to find the engaging work, but a much larger challenge to find the group of people that make the job a joy. The benefit of being your own boss, is you can build that group yourself, once your business is large enough…

    • Of course I would love that too. It’s just hard for most people and it takes time.
      Maybe one day I’d make more money than at my old job. 🙂

  17. Back when I was studying to be a teacher, I was able to negotiate a half-time, half-pay year (with full benefits) while I was student teaching. It was great. I was able to really focus on my student teaching & lesson planning, while still bringing in enough money to scrape by. I’d welcome another half time sort of work scenario when I have another worthy time consuming activity, like being a parent. 🙂

  18. If you had asked me this question a year, I would have said I would rather work more for money. But I’ve realized in a short time period, I don’t want to do this. Maybe I have become more relaxed? But all I see is people around who have inflated lifestyles, and who are working more and more every year to pay for their inflated lifestyles. I don’t want to live like this. I do feel like the only thing holding me back is my family. I’m not at a point in my life yet where I can be sure my mom and my brother are taken care of. My brother needs to graduate and get a nice gig/job for me to feel safe. At that time my brother will be able to help me take care of my mom.
    I, also, would like to have more money saved and invested.
    But my husband and I are talking more and more about an exit plan. No, I’m not talking about quitting work. Because I will never be able to stop working. But a plan to get us somewhere where our time is geared towards living not working.

  19. I think I would do part time at something like 20 hours per week and no benefits. Which would equate to roughly 50% of the hours for 40% of the pay. It would certainly provide more socialization, but the catch there is who you would be socializing with. Some coworkers are crazy or uninteresting. So it could end up being a larger quantity of socialization but a lower quality of socialization.

    If you are financially independent and don’t work, or end up working part time, you have way more free time to socialize with people you actually want to spend time with, instead of coincidental acquaintances that you happen to work with.

  20. Regarding “Promotions might be tough to come by”
    (Please correct me if I’m wrong but,) It seems that you started to not like your previous job once you started getting promotions, doing less actual engineering and more managerial stuff.
    Would you ever advise someone to cut back on hours to try to stay where they are on the corporate ladder?

    • You’re right about that. I’m not sure if cutting back hours to stay at the same level would work. I need to look into it a little more, but I suspect it’s highly situational.

      • I am in a similar boat with an IT engineering company. I was considering going into consulting work to reduce my hours at some point. In tech work it’s usually really easy to find 3-9 month contract work – especially in Portland. I tried moving there at one point and that was what most of the tech jobs seemed to be.

        What I really enjoy doing has a season to it so I had considered trying to do my current hobby for half the year and taking a contract to pay the bills the other half. I can currently live on 50% of my income with no issues but am afraid to do that until my retirement, kids college funds, etc. are a little better funded.

  21. I also make about 25% what I did when I was working. Generally I find it’s SO worth it. I would like to build up my pretirement fund a little bit more, however, so I go back for another year or two at some point. But for now to be home with my son and get him off to a good start is worth a lot more than money.

    • It’s great to have the option to go back. They’d have to drag me back kicking and screaming. 🙂
      Being at home is just too good.

  22. I’m starting to see the light at the end of my 40hr work week tunnel. It’s going to be tough to give up my company car and all the benefits to full time employment, but you are right…. Can you really put a price tag on your happiness and sanity?

  23. I don’t mind working but I don’t like HAVING to work. My goal is to become FI to have the flexibility to work doing what I want instead of doing what pays the most, as it currently stands. I will probably work harder AFTER I am FI than now because I will actually like what I’m doing.

      • That’s the million dollar question… I want to pay off my mortgage and finish funding my retirement portfolio so that the 60+ age is covered. Once that’s done, I feel like I’ll have more flexibility to do what I want instead of what pays most $$.

  24. I would like to work 5 or 6 hours each day 3 days per week. That would be enough to keep my adrenaline pumping and my mind sharp.

    I did not vote because I am a decade away from being able to reduce work hours and I have no idea how much less I could live on. I have drug and dental benefits but I don’t use them much but it would be worrisome to lose them and I need their small pension contribution and their small pension match. Many months it is the only saving that I do.

    Working 7 days in a row right now. Standing all day, lots of crabby, cranky health care clients to deal with. I will be so tired most nights that I will just have toast for supper because my brain and body are fried. Good thing I love my job.

    • I wish your blog had been around when I was younger. i wasn’t as creative or confident regarding work alternatives, so I will be working until the standard retirement age most likely. That is, unless I can come up with a good idea for an online product like your “My Wife Quit Her Job” friend! 🙂 I really appreciate how you “tell it like it is” in your posts. I didn’t have children, but I really enjoy them. When I was younger I thought I would be a good parent. Now I have more humility and I realize it’s not possible to be perfect. In other words, all my flaws would have been revealed by the challenge of raising kids! What I think is great about you is that you’re open, willing to learn and change, and you obviously love your son. I won’t try to offer parenting advice, but I will encourage you to seek out other stay-at-home dads even though you describe yourself as an introvert. (More friends is a good thing; you just don’t have to hang out with them as often!). You have a lot to offer. In fact, there is some stay-at-home dad networking happening in Portland! Keep up the good work!

    • I’m 100% my life is longer after I quit my old job. It was just too stressful and I’m sure I wouldn’t last long in that kind of environment.

    • I agree with both of you…Sam and Joe. Now that I’ve recently become FI, I enjoy the free time more. Just this morning the wife’s truck battery died. No problem taking the time to test the battery, go to the store I originally purchased from to get a pro rated replacement, take my time getting home and installing. All is good. Looking forward to next month to see how Obamacare kicks off. Should be a lot to blog about on healthcare then.


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