“The role has a base salary of £n, a generous benefits package, and a 30% performance bonus”.
I paused, doing some mental mathematical acrobatics. The base salary was 150% of my current job. My inner saboteur went ka-ching, dancing to the imaginary tune of a slot machine paying out a jackpot. Ding ding ding ding!
Until that moment, I hadn’t seriously considered changing jobs. Complained, yes. Taken action, no.
True, my current position has reached its used-by date. I’ve learned what I can at the site. Reskilled to recover my relevance and restore the marketable value of my time. Old and grey I may be, but no longer the dinosaur confronting extinction that I was a year or two ago.
I have been in post long enough to have delivered. Earning a reputation as someone who can. Which puts me in the minority, a superpower that sees me constantly overloaded, stressed, and exploited. “No good deed goes unpunished” is a cliché for a reason.
“If that job isn’t of interest, I have another position working alongside some of your former colleagues for a slightly lower advertised base salary, but everything is negotiable for the right candidate.”
True, the longer I stayed in the job, the financially worse off in purchasing power terms I become. There is no possibility of advancement, and the token pay rises granted don’t come close to keeping pace with inflation. As market salaries have soared skywards in the Brexit-induced skills shortage, my employer’s remuneration expectations remain stubbornly anchored to the past. While the numbers don’t change, the accents of the people willing to work for those numbers certainly do, a compelling reminder that the commodity skills marketplace is a global one.
The second position was, on paper at least, a better remunerated yet far easier role than the one I currently held. A single project with a dedicated team. A world away from the 3+ full-time jobs I was struggling to perform in the agile-addled matrix-managed resource-pooled hotdesking clown car shit show that I constantly battle within today.
The salary numbers on paper were impressive. Though in practice, there would be little in the way of tangible lifestyle change. To take it as cash would mean losing roughly half in tax. Salary sacrificing the increase into an age-restricted pension would mean paying no tax for now, but also offer no help paying those eye-watering utility bills.
“Or are you are finally tired of hiding behind your children? Finally willing to get out of your own way? I have a half dozen clients who would pay whatever it cost to sign you up in a heartbeat. The industry has watched with interest as your current shop has performed miracles. Someone with the insider knowledge required to replicate that secret formula has an opportunity to write their own ticket.”
True, my employer enjoyed spectacular growth and played a strong self-promotional media game.
There was only one problem. The perceived magic did not exist! I knew it. The agent knew it too.
As with any site, they did a few things well and many things badly. This appeared not to matter, providing the growth rate remained exponential. Smoke and mirrors, or obfuscation, successfully kept troubling questions at bay.
The headhunter was deliberately trying to inflate my ego and push my buttons. Recognising a temporary opportunity to exploit having one of the darlings of the moment on my CV. Conferring status by association, in a similar way that having worked for Google or studied at Oxford does. In truth, the alumni are no better than anywhere else, just better connected. Perception is a powerful thing.
I must confess I was sceptical. For many years, the headhunter had helped find great hires to work for me. Today, it would seem that I was the product. A chance for him to earn a fat 20-30% commission at the frothy peak of an overheated job market. Already there were growing signs the tide was turning, as startups shed staff, funding became scarce, and the economy dove headlong into recession.
But I have also learned to listen. Hear opinions contrary to my own. Consider where they were coming from. Establish their drivers and motivations. And be open to persuasion, to changing my mind.
My children are growing up at an alarming rate. For more than a decade I had chosen my roles primarily based upon flexibility more than interest or remuneration.
The ability to do the morning drop-offs instead of having to drive a desk by 8:30 in the morning.
The luxury to take vacation time whenever I, or they, wanted. Able to be present at the endless array of concerts, excursions, plays, school holidays, and sports days scattered throughout the year.
The option to work remotely, and spend the annual equivalent of 8 extra working weeks of time wasted commuting with my children rather than crammed onto overcrowded public transport inhaling bodily odours and exchanging diseases with thousands of equally miserable daily peak-hour commuters.
Pretty soon few of those things will occur, and fewer still will demand (or desire) my presence.
Obtaining finance for residential property deals has long been another element of friction to changing jobs. Mortgage lenders love the predictability of established employment or long-term consulting contracts. They are less keen on the uncertainty facing those serving out probationary or notice periods at either end of an employment relationship. Good luck to those attempting to obtain reasonably priced finance while on the bench or enjoying a stint of seasonal semi-retirement, they will need it!
For now, keeping lenders happy is not a factor.
I recognised several years ago that, within my timescales, Britain’s best days lay in the past not the future.
This led to a conscious decision to reduce my home market bias. I may choose to live in a Britain that becomes a little less great by the day, but that doesn’t mean my finances must follow suit.
A realisation dawned that for this cycle the easy money has been made in London residential property. Property is a cyclical game, and over the long term opportunity will return, but for now there are more favourable markets in which to invest.
Those three factors led my real-life game of Monopoly to feature more sales than purchases in recent times.
A combination of foresight and fortune has resulted in the remainder of my property portfolio being financed at bargain-basement fixed rates on long-term interest-only deals, with the ability to optionally repay up to 10% of the outstanding principal each year should circumstances or priorities change.
Between the maturing family and simplifying my needs for the world of high finance, I must confess I’m running out of excuses to hide behind.
No longer “I can’t because…”.
The day is approaching where I’ll have to be honest with myself, and concede it is really “I don’t want it”.
Which left me in somewhat of a reflective mood.
The decision to leave one job is separate and distinct from the decision to accept another one.
Exiting is driven by a recognition that the futures of the person and the role are no longer well aligned.
The timing and circumstances may be initiated by the employee in the form of resignation or rage quitting.
Or they could be set in train by the employer. Overtly, through firing or redundancy. Covertly, in the form of adverse performance reviews. Below-par pay rises. Corporate bullying. Passed over for promotion. Underwhelming annual bonuses. Workloads that are both crushing and intentionally unsustainable. There are no shortage of tools at an employer’s disposal when they are too weak to hold a frank honest discussion, yet wish to squeeze out an employee.
Selecting a new role involves looking forward.
Identifying goals. Hopes. Dreams.
Then finding a role that will help take the candidate toward their direction of travel.
Sometimes directly, via an international relocation, opportunity to re-skill, or visa sponsorship.
Other times indirectly, in the form of a pay packet sufficient to support their desired lifestyle.
Ideally, the role would be doing something the candidate enjoys or finds fulfilling, while still paying sufficiently well to support their lifestyle choices.
Many of us will settle for doing something we don’t absolutely hate, providing it pays well.
There are times, more often than we would like to admit, when this becomes a form of self-harm. Measured in terms of lost time at best, or worse, our deeds actively diverting us from where we say we wish to be heading. Creating cognitive dissonance and dissatisfaction. A recipe for failure.
Wanting something isn’t enough. Dreams only become realities when we act to make them so. Little steps collectively achieving grand adventures.
True, there is less friction involved when starting a new job seamlessly follows leaving an old one. But, where finances allow, it is usually better to seek the right job rather than just taking the first one that presents itself.
My current role is the first permanent job I’ve held in decades. The differences between working for myself and working for “the man” has been less marked than I had expected.
Less control. Less responsibility. Less worry.
But one unexpected difference has been the cost of continuity.
At the beginning of the job I had achieved nothing, delivered nothing, and was responsible for nothing.
As time passed, projects delivered and change occurred.
My knowledge and network increased, gradually seeing me evolve from a nobody to a key person.
Each project accumulated a weight of institutional memory, magnified by the high churn resourcing model favoured by my employer.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Help? Support? Opinion on related initiatives? Ask me, for nobody else remains.
Deliver a single project, and this is manageable.
Deliver a dozen, and it becomes a full-time job in its own right. Forming an anchor that steals time and reduces effectiveness. A tether to past glories that impedes progress towards the outcomes of today.
As a consultant, the “deliver and run” mantra used to trouble me. A project concludes with a hand-off and transition into business-as-usual mode, with the consultants rolling onto new projects with other clients. For the consultant this provided a constant source of challenge. Growth. Renewal. And a clean slate to work from.
As a permanent employee, there is nowhere to run.
Having now sat on both sides of the fence, I better understand the concept of careers. Specifically the need for permanent employees to change roles every year or two to avoid becoming stale, typecast, or institutionalised.
Taking small incremental steps within a firm, or great leaps moving between firms.
It is said that a change is as good as a holiday. Having talked myself into one, now I just need to choose a destination. More money is nice, but money is an enabler, not a destination in its own right. Hopefully I remember that when those big salary package numbers are being bandied about!
Landing on something more akin to sand, sea, and fun in the sun.
And less involving commuting, video conferences, and endless busywork performing a bullshit job that will be instantly forgotten the moment my face is replaced by another commodity resource with a comparable skillset.