The Battle Of Salary And Control

3 weeks ago I was reminded of the biggest reason for my desire to leave my paid corporate employment: I value my time too much to let others control it.

I was sitting in my office plugging away at my work, when I got an email from our HR specialist telling me and the 60+ other people in my office that in a week we would be required to take a 2.5 day class on leadership essentials.  There was no warning, there was no flexibility on scheduling, there was no consideration for critical short-term tasks associated with our projects, and worst of all, there was no consideration for who should be taking the class.  It was peanut-butter spread across the entire organization and every person had to take it. It was an attack on our personal choice of how we could use our time.

As someone who values my time greatly, I took this personally.

I realize there are people with far more leadership experience than me, but as an engineer I would say I have far more experience and leadership training than my job requires.  Last year I left a position managing a team of 11 engineers that were in charge of supporting half a billion dollars worth of products in the field.  In that role, I voluntarily took many leadership courses so I could be my best in the job. After awhile I left that job because I no longer wanted to lead – it just wasn’t fun for me.  But when this new leadership class was rolled out, no one asked me whether I needed the course, and no one asked whether I had a desire to lead.  It gets worse in that I’m one of the few people in the office currently facing critical short-term milestones on a program with a key customer – and now I would have to either work more hours or fail in my project.

Obviously, you can see where this is going.  I had to sit in a classroom for 2.5 days straight, then go home and work all night on my customer project in order to stay on schedule.  During each classroom break, and after each day of class, everyone complained about how boring and worthless the course was – but what shocked me was the general consensus of my salary paid peers who collectively came to the same conclusion of: “Oh well, I still get paid the same.  If they want to waste their money on this, so be it.”  In hindsight it shouldn’t have shocked me, because this is how the average salary man thinks: they trade their time for money.  When they do this, they willingly give up control of that time and how it’s used by the company is of no concern of theirs.  To me, this is a sad way to approach anything, especially something that will control much of your life from age 22 to 65 for the average person.

This is where I (and most of the readers here) differ in thought process as compared to most of the working class – we value our time enough to consider what is worth doing and what isn’t, and we take offense to being forced to do anything that isn’t valuable to ourselves, or friends and family, or the world at large.  We see the world as an opportunity for adventure, challenges, leisure, and fun – but those things are only possible when we control our time.

 

I know I’ve talked a lot about “early retirement” on this site, but the purpose of this post isn’t just about that.  There are many ways to strive towards escaping the golden handcuffs that a salary has on you.  Early retirement is obviously a pretty ideal scenario, but more importantly, it’s a reminder of the benefits of driving down expenses and having an aggressive savings plan.  Look at it this way, if you save 75% of your income, then each year you work allows for up to 3 years of unemployment.  This gives you back control:

  1. You can take a lower paying job if your current job is unfulfilling to you.
  2. You can make decisions that go against the grain, even at the risk of making your employer angry and, worst case, being let go.
  3. You can take risks at your job that others are afraid to make, giving you a leg up on the competition
  4. You can leave paid employment altogether, and start your own gig with several years of buffer to get things rolling.

 

As I see it, the further you get ahead with your savings, the more you control your time.  Saving for an early retirement may be the end goal with total control of your time, but saving towards and early retirement is an incremental path with incremental benefits, and the path can can start at any time.  So whether you are almost there like me, or you’re 55 and only now beginning to save, or you are 21 and about to start your first job – the opportunity is there to begin taking control.


19 Responses to The Battle Of Salary And Control

  1. Mirella says:

    This is a great article and so key to what us EREs are after – the ability to choose what we do with our time, our space, our minds.

    From your above choices I’m going with option 4 at the moment – or at least that’s what I will be doing next year.

    Just today I told my boss that I won’t be back next year (in teaching you can’t really just quit with a few weeks notice, I’ve decided to stay until the end of the year) and she asked me to consider staying on part time or perhaps delaying my decision for a yr. As I walked away I thought about how I can’t trade anymore time for money in a way that I can’t really choose on a day to day basis, and even the rigidity of part time teaching would steal too much time from my mind.

  2. Daisy says:

    That is super frustrating that it was required and pushed back your project, but learning new skills is almost always a good thing! Even if you are already a leader, things can always be learned :)

  3. One life skill I’ve had to learn is not to care about things more than the people who SHOULD care about them. I’d be one of the guys saying “oh well, if they want to waste their money…”

    Bosses could learn a lot from their underlings, but they rarely ask. Probably because they know the answer, but are also powerless to do anything about it.

  4. Patrick says:

    This is why I hate working at any day job.

    The biggest offense to me comes from the fact that decisions about how I use my time at work typically come from up above, too far removed from the real daily work decisions to really know what the heck is going on. Management makes a change, says “this is who things are going to be from now on,” and you realize that they are totally disconnected from the way things really work.

    And yes, the training is so annoying. Every year, the cram these worthless classes down your throat. You are made to sit there and just take it, learning approximately two things per hour, sometimes for several days in a row.

    I could not take it anymore. So unproductive, so wasteful. I knew I had to start my own business, where I could work more quickly and effectively.

  5. Ah yes…. I remember all those HR meetings……. I love meetings about meetings! Those are the BEST!

  6. Yeap, I am sick of other people tell me what to do. I really need to explore self employment. It is hard to walk away from a steady salary. The 2.5 days leadership class really made you mad, but you still went. Why didn’t you just skip out on it?

  7. Michelle says:

    This is how my old job wad and I hated it. Complete disregard for others.

  8. Diedra B says:

    I understand that this was a trigger for you. But I just wonder, for those of us who aren’t where you are, and aren’t just going to be complacent as you described some of your coworkers, what might have been a good way of getting across to management that HR’s approach wasn’t helpful?

    • As long as you remain rational and logical, and avoid an emotional and potentially unprofessional response, I think you can mostly decouple your financial situation from how you provide feedback to your management or HR requirements that don’t make sense.

      Ironically, my response was the most vocal to management, but it was also the most rational since I put more thought into it.. Probably so I could write this article… :)

      In my case, I laid down the case that:

      1. I had short term milestones I had commited to, and to miss those dates meant putting my entire program at risk. Additionally, I travelled to the customer site on the other side of the country on Monday and Tuesday of that week, so to have training on Wednesday and Thursday and half of Friday completely killed a week of productivity.

      2. If training is to be required and extensive like this, then we should have more than a week’s notice so we can schedule accordingly and set expectations on our programs.

      3. Classes like this that aren’t required for industry certification should be provided to people who either want it or need it. In this case, we had super-introverted geeks that never want to lead the lab, we had our secretary, and we had people like me that have purposefully left leadership positions. For these types of people, the class made no sense.

      4. And finally, I pointed out the irony in our executive leadership breaking some of the lessons of the training in enforcing the training without considering the impact on individuals morale, and stress. That last one was just a jab that may not be appropriate if you’re job or financial situation isn’t secure. :)

      These are specific examples to the specific situation. Extrapolating out, I just think that if you think through why something doesn’t make sense and stay rational in your feedback, then no harm can be done. It may not help, but I’ve never seen it hurt. Many times, even if nothing changes, it shows leadership and passion that you care enough about something to speak up, even if it’s against upper management. I’ve personally been rewarded much more than punished for speaking up against accepted beliefs.

  9. Poor Student says:

    I have a lot of time where I am just doing it for the pay. My current job there is a lot of hour long lunches (supposed to be half hour), driving around to kill time, etc. I am not financially secure and am still accumulating money. This is why I put up with these time wasters, because for the most part I could not be earning more money in any other way.

  10. I agree, I have to take these types of courses as well. I feel as if they do more harm than good because you then have more people who think they should be in charge.

    I think these courses should be geared towards current ‘leaders’ and managers

  11. Another great article Brave. It’s because of great bloggers like you that really hit the heart of the issue that keeps me really motivated to save and invest. Each dollar I can put to work buys me back a little bit of my life later on.

    Like the first poster, Mirella, I am a teacher as well. I end up with a lot of down time at work and, although, I am not monitored nor do I have any “stats” or pre-determined “goals” that I must reach, I just simply can’t leave school. Given even this “free time” it’s still at work and it’s still me trading away my life for dollars. I would immediately jump at the opportunity to be a part time teacher and only have to be at school for the times I teach, plus a bit of extra lesson planning.

    I think this shows that even when there is no expectation of you the very fact that your time is being controlled and could be manipulated at the whim of another is simply unacceptable (to me).

    • Thanks for the complement, Kechi.

      By the way, when are you going to open up your blog for comments from people without a Google or WordPress account? I tried to comment on your post about investing (I wrote quite a bit, actually) but then I couldn’t submit it.

  12. Great story – I’m always drawn in by Dilbert-like tales from the office. And I also admire your response of working double-time to keep the project alive even while you attended the boring training.. even while you’re already financially independent so your job performance will not affect your financial life!

    But you still haven’t answered the question we all want to know: why didn’t you just calmly explain that you wouldn’t be attending the training because your project was more important? What do you think would have happened if you had done that? It would be an interesting experiment to play on the HR department, and might even teach them something. Plus all us BNL readers would get more drama to read about.

    One of my already-FI coworkers used to impress me with his simply stated policy of “I don’t do business travel”. New managers would come and go, and occasionally try to send him to San Jose or Austin, and he’d always say “I can’t do that trip, but I’m happy to work with the people remotely”.

    The managers gasped and pondered the situation: nobody had ever rejected their directives for business travel before! What did they do?

    “Well.. OK then, I guess you can just work with them remotely”.

    (Then they’d usually end up sending ME on the trip instead, since I actually like taking trips around the country and eating sushi every night while somebody else pays the bills)

    • But you still haven’t answered the question we all want to know: why didn’t you just calmly explain that you wouldn’t be attending the training because your project was more important? What do you think would have happened if you had done that?

      Good question. To be honest, there are two answers. The first is better than the second.

      First, when I initially questioned the validity of the class in general, and the relevance for me in particular(*), I was told it was a requirement for all employees to take in order for our office to stay ISO 9001 compliant. I can appreciate the importance of ISO compliance o for our office (despite it’s shortcomings), and who am I to take down an entire office by rebelling? Only later, I learned that this had nothing to do with ISO, but since it was not a message from HR nor my manager, I couldn’t hold them accountable for some sort of lie. And frankly, I trust my management’s ethics to not come up with such a lie.

      It was only after the first day that I learned that it had nothing to do with ISO. By then, I was already half way through the course and just decided to complete the course rather than rock the boat.

      Which leads to the second reason, which is not as valid. In general, I’m not one to rock the boat. Although I’m a non-conformist in most ways, I rarely push back on requirements when they are laid down with such specificity. I need to get used to my independence from a paycheck and take advantage of the benefits it provides. Who knows, I may liberate a few others along the way. In that case, and in hindsight, it’s almost my responsibility! But, to give some credit to my “rebellion,” I did leave the class for about 1.5 hours on the second day. The class was held in a fancy banquet room in a super fancy private resort near my office, so I found a nice quiet room with big comfy leather chairs, turned on some music on my phone, and got some real work done.

      (*) Short story. I challenged the personal relevancy of the class to one of our executives in front of about 5 other people. She’s a friendly and open person and we were just drinking some beers, so I felt comfortable speaking the truth. In what was a rare highlight quote of mine, I asked her “Have I shown some sort of false ambition that makes you think I want to become a leader in this organization?” Of course, it was all in good fun over a beer, and she has come to understand there is more to me than the ordinary engineer seeking a paycheck, but most of my peers saw it as a suicide statement for my career. :)

      • George says:

        You’re a clever guy, why didn’t you look into the ISO 9001 requirements? And with your previous experience you should know management will say almost anything to make you do what they want, lying or not?
        Browsing through the ISO requirements would have taken you a 30 min maximum

        I don’t really understand, you have already decided you will quit, you tell us you don’t need the money; you tell us you really don’t like the corporate life. So, why didn’t use your own head, easiest would simply to not have turned up on that Wednesday och Thursday, but continue work from your cubical?

        There must be more here than you are telling us. Either about your work or about yourself.

      • The thing about ISO is that it doesn’t have a lot of requirements, it mostly just makes sure that you are compliant with your corporate defined processes and procedures. So if some random bureaucrat wrote that all employees muct take this training, then it would violate ISO to not take it. So, unfortunately, it would not be as simple as browsing ISO docs for 30 minutes.

        “There must be more here than you are telling us. Either about your work or about yourself.”

        This made me laugh. Why would I write such a personal blog with so much transparency, then hold back on something like this? If there’s something about myself I’m holding back, it’s only due to limited self-awareness.

        In hindsight, I wish I’d skipped the training out of principle – but using the knowledge I had at the time I don’t regret my decision. And to be fair, there have been plenty of “requirements” I’ve skipped over the past year with no negative consequences.

  13. The article actually made me thoroughly emotional. I probably can relate to it the most because 3 weeks back I went out of my last 2 years job due to the excessive conspiracy and bossing upon me. I tried my best to cope up with the situation. But when it went out of tolerance level, I had to take a drastic decision which i took eventually. After leaving the job, I went through few unpleasant comments and all. But it was getting unbearable for me to carry out order and directions regarding what to do and what not when I myself have had more potential than my seniors. I believe, to achieve something in life you have to be self employed which I am pursuing currently. Amazing post to say the least.

  14. Jonny says:

    I strongly feel there comes a time in life when you aught to give money 1st priority over your job satisfaction, but like everything has 2 contradictory sides, here also once you make a satisfactory bank balance, its necessary to go after your dream and do everything possible in order to achieve it. It’s my motto of life, and I am sure loads of people out here think alike.

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