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Question: How can I find a job that will allow me to earn as much as I need to earn, but work less? I am very overworked, and my home life suffers for it.

Answer Paywizard:

In her 1991 book, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Juliet Schor analyzed historic, economic, and cultural trends in her examination of the increasing demands on American workers.  Schor identified a distinct shift in balance between work and leisure time that has emerged only in recent years and that has exacerbated individual, family, and societal burdens alike.  I would certainly recommend this book to you; however, I also understand that your scarce free time creates a difficult Catch-22.  Perhaps you will enjoy listening to it in audiobook form while commuting, for example?

Last year, the New York-based Families and Work Institute (FWI) released a study revealing that 1 in 3 American employees are chronically overworked and that more than half, in the month prior, felt overwhelmed by their workload.  Further, although 79% had access to paid vacations in 2004, 36% of all employees were not tapping the full vacation time allotted.  And those who do enjoy some respite mainly take short vacations, which FWI found left employees returning to work feeling less relaxed than those who had been able to enjoy longer periods of rest or enjoyment outside of work.

FWI president Ellen Galinsky commented that “Ironically, the very same skills that are essential to survival and success in this fast-paced global economy, such as multi-tasking, have also become the triggers for feeling overworked…Being interrupted frequently during work time and working during non-work times, such as while on vacation, are also contributing factors for feeling overworked.”  

While understanding just how prevalent your frustrations are may be helpful to assure you that you are in good company, this does not necessarily help improve your situation day to day.  Fortunately FWI also provides materials and advice on their website.

Before considering switching jobs, is it possible to improve your current worklife?  In other words, does your employer offer opportunities to adapt your current situation, perhaps through telecommuting or flextime?  Because employers are often well aware that improved balance between work and personal life is in the best interests of the company in the form of increased productivity – reducing mistakes, absenteeism, turnover, and increasing workplace effectiveness and morale – many employers are keen to identify ways of improving their employees’ worklives; however, they may not know how best to do so.

Do you feel comfortable speaking to your supervisor or HR office, or is there a dedicated ombudsperson, for example?  I always recommend articulating your concerns in a productive manner (preferably at a convenient time for your employer and with suggestions for improvement and/or solutions) before assuming that it is time to move on.  This way, you will know whether you have exhausted all of your options and worked toward constructive improvement before simply moving on to another job which may provide more of the same stressors.  Indeed, if there are others in your situation, this might provide an opportunity to effect some systemic change, which will be welcomed by many.

If you are not in a position to change your work environment and decide to change jobs, you may find the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook useful as you explore new opportunities, based on your experience, credentials, and interests.  The Handbook will enable you to learn about not only salary but also working conditions, job responsibilities, etc. since you want to be able to make as informed a decision as possible to find a job you will truly both be good at and want to work hard at in the years to come, while also allowing you to enjoy a different work-life balance.  If you are already familiar with certain jobs and are simply looking for income potential, see the Paywizard's Salary Calculator.

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