Sunday 28 April 2013

Is it worth working if I'm not earning much money?

Money, or the lack of it, can be a major stumbling block when considering going back to work. If you're looking for a more flexible job, with shorter hours, the salary can be considerably lower than the one you earned in your pre-break professional role and that can be hard to accept. If you're changing career and starting again in a new field, the contrast is likely to be be even more extreme. And if you're a working mother, childcare costs take a huge chunk of your income if you don’t have a local grandparent happy to do the childminding (and most of us don’t nowadays). 

Working for a fraction of your old salary not only has a practical impact. It can also hit your professional pride and your sense of being valued, as we have a tendency to link what we're paid with what we're worth.

“I’m not sure if I’m prepared to work for peanuts”, was the reaction of one of my clients recently when she calculated her expected after-work pay if she switched sector.

If you're finding that low financial returns is a barrier to your relaunch, try looking at all the benefits for you of working, including those that are harder to quantify. When I discuss motivations with women returners, I hear many other reasons than just the money: “I want to use my brain again”; “I want to stop apologising when people say ‘what do you do?’”; “I miss the social side, having colleagues, talking about other things than kids and schools”; “ I want to be a role model for my children”; “I want to be on a more equal footing with my partner”.

Peter Warr, a Professor at the Institute of Work Psychology, has studied what it is about working that gives us fulfilment and confirms that money is only one factor. In “The Joy of Work”, he identified the ‘Needed Nine’ – the nine main sources of happiness in any situation or role: 1. Personal influence 2. Using your abilities 3. Goals 4. Variety 5. Clear role requirements and outlook 6. Social contacts 7. Money 8. Adequate physical setting 9. A valued role.

Warr found that studies comparing women working at home and outside the home typically find that average levels of happiness do not differ much between the two groups. The difference depends both on your preferences (staying at home or paid work) and your current situation. If you feel that you have high levels of the ‘needed nine’ – using your abilities, with good social contacts, daily variety, enough money and feeling your role is valued – then unsurprisingly you will be happier than someone with lower levels, whether you are working or not.

When I was a full-time mother, what got to me from the ‘needed nine’ was the lack of variety (the Groundhog Day cycle of washing, shopping, cooking, feeding) and the feeling that I was not really using my strengths; I was never going to be the mum who made a wonderful fancy dress costume or an awe-inspiring birthday cake. The joy of working again was not so much in the pay (as a fledgling psychologist there wasn’t much of that after childcare and travel costs), it was more about regaining my professional identity and having the satisfaction of doing something where I could feel a real sense of achievement and growth.

So if you’re wondering if it’s worth returning to work if you barely break-even, think of whether working means more to you than the money. Will it make you a more fulfilled person in other ways? And remember that you're investing for the longer term: whether you’re starting on a new career track or re-establishing yourself in your old field, you are building the foundation for a satisfying and profitable working role in the future.

Further thoughts
See Carol Fishman Cohen’s of iRelaunch’s advice on investing for the future and weighing household rather than personal income against expenses here 

Posted by Julianne

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