update: I got a windfall — how much time off should I take?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who came into money and was burned out and wondering how much time off to take? Here’s the update.

I followed your advice to think about what I actually want out of a job, and ended up doing a search to specifically look for jobs in my field with a strong work/life balance culture. I found a great company that offers unlimited PTO, and was hiring proactively to balance workloads to ensure their employees didn’t get overloaded. They agreed to let me have 2 months off before I started so I could rest and recover from my old job, so I got to do a little burnout recovery as well before I began. I did take about a 10k pay cut to join them, since they’re a smaller, newer company than my old one, but I don’t regret my decision for a second, because I’m getting to do more interesting work with less stress – and it has made me realize how truly toxic my old company culture was! They made me believe everyone in the industry expects huge amounts of overtime and work HAS to be your only focus to succeed, and that’s just not true. I hear they’re now hemorrhaging employees in my division since I left (I was the first in a few years to quit, and immodestly I did a LOT of the heavy lifting there), and I’m not surprised.

In the end, I would have probably liked a little more time off – even with 2 months off under my belt, I’m not back up to 100% energy yet. But my new job actively encourages people to take their PTO, so I’ve also already had two short vacations, which REALLY helps personally and also motivates me to do the best work I possibly can for them! As for the windfall, we’re putting it towards a down payment on our first house soon, knock on wood! :)

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. MBK*

    This is a great update, and reflects exactly the kind of work/life decisions that are hard to make when you’re either living paycheck to paycheck *or* so embroiled in a high-stress industry that you don’t see there’s another way. Assuming you’re not on the line where $10K per year isn’t the difference between paying the rent/mortgage and not, the tradeoff would seem to be to be well more than worth it.

    1. Venus*

      I have to wonder if the OP’s hourly rate was better at the shitty job, because I doubt it. I would rather be paid $60k to work 40 hours a week ($30/hr), than be paid $70k to work 70 hours ($20/hr). If someone really needs the $10k difference then better to have a second job on weekends or something.

  2. awesome3*

    OP! Good for you! In the original letter you said 12-14 hour days was standard, what a relief and plot twist that you learned your company was feeding you lies about what “standard” was in the industry. I’m glad you got out of there. Best of luck in your new job.

  3. The Lexus Lawyer*

    I was kind of curious what industry the OP is in. It had sounded a bit like law, but the update doesn’t.

    1. H.C.*

      In original letter, OP indicated she’s a POC in a predominantly white & male industry, my mind initially jumped to tech or engineering.

      1. Windfall OP*

        You got it right :) it is one of those (but I probably won’t get more detailed than that since I know a lot of my old coworkers read this blog)!

      2. The Lexus Lawyer*

        I’m also a POC in a predominantly white and male industry. There’s quite a few industries that can be described that way

      3. Marion Ravenwood*

        I thought it might be tech-related as well. My last partner worked for a large video game company for almost 10 years, and has spoken about the stress and long hours becoming almost addictive.

    2. pope suburban*

      I’m also curious, but because my current job has ramped up its long-present dysfunction and OP’s employer sounds like a delight. I’m wishing I could jump ship from here to there, honestly.

  4. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

    Congrats on the new job! Glad everything worked out and that you have a job that actually cares about their employees work/life balance

  5. Dr. Because Rebecca was Already Taken*

    This is such wonderful news! Sometimes a pay cut is worth the better working environment!

  6. sofar*

    I love this! Because during this “great resignation,” I’ve found that a lot of companies (at least those that have reached out to me) are SUPER focused on trying to tempt workers to join them by offering more money — but then are like, “For your first two years, you only get 10 vacation days, no we can’t negotiate that, it’s standard for all new employees.” Like, I’ve got 15 years of work history, and I’m being told I’ll need to go back to 2 weeks’ vacation for the first year or two. No thanks, I’ll stay where I’m at.

    I get the impression that, with people quitting in droves and so many places understaffed, companies are MUCH more flexible with salary than time-off benefits because they literally cannot AFFORD to have any employee take a vacation.

    But for a lot of folks facing burnout, getting a salary bump just to get NO time off and work in a stressful understaffed environment isn’t worth the stress of moving jobs for.

    Love that LW’s new company has figured this out.

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      I wish my department would figure this out. I’ve been trying to explain to them that that they need more staff, and make work-life balance a real priority, and they respond “absolutely, we need to do that” and then offer me a raise. No, that’s not what I said, I said I’m burned completely out and about to run for the hills and you offering me more money can’t fix that. When they find out in the next two weeks that I’m leaving the job they are going to act shocked, but really I’ve explained it as clearly as I can, and all I can do now is do what I have to do for my own life.

    2. Monte*

      My current job tried to tell me they didn’t offer any vacation for the first year despite looking for an experienced professional and an open job for over a year. I laughed and declined. Still only have two weeks, but I got a 11% raise this year so…

    3. new name who dis*

      This is interesting, because the vibe I’ve gotten from the Great Resignation is that work-life balance is what’s motivating people to quit, not money.

    4. thatjillgirl*

      Yep. My field currently has a lot of places offering sign on bonuses, but one of the things that keeps me from even sort of shopping around is knowing that I’d lose most of my vacation time if I changed companies at this point. Time off is an extremely valuable benefit that companies should really consider being more generous with if they want to attract experienced workers.

    5. CalypsoSummer*

      “for a lot of folks facing burnout, getting a salary bump just to get NO time off and work in a stressful understaffed environment isn’t worth the stress of moving jobs ”

      Amen! If I want to work in a stressful, understaffed environment, I’ll stay where I am. We got plenty of stress and lack-of-staffing right here right now, and I sure don’t need to go looking for a new version. As for more pay, sure, yes, money’s nice — but I’m getting paid well as it is. My leaving wouldn’t be due to wanting more money; it would be due to a shiny new nutcase CEO who has deciding to make a bunch of pointless, crippling changes because he can, and due to years of attrition that have not been addressed.

      I have been yelling, “WE ARE UNDERSTAFFED, WE NEED TO HIRE AND TRAIN MORE PEOPLE WITH MY SPECIALTY NOW” into deaf ears for some years now, and you know what? When they start howling because I put in my resignation, that’s just going to be a big ole shame. I have no idea what they’re going to do. Won’t be my problem.

  7. Windfall OP*

    Hi everyone! Thank you so much for the kind comments – you really did all help during that dark time as I was trying to make up my mind. I was very burned out and couldn’t fathom continuing to work in my industry at the time, but I’m glad I took a middle road, looking back. I am definitely a LOT happier, and even though I still do 1-2 hours of overtime a couple times a week, it makes a huge difference to know that’s NOT the norm.

    I also didn’t get to add this as an update when Alison asked me for one, but I just got a 10% raise as well, which cancels out the cut I took when I joined! I almost hesitate to include this, because this whole thing definitely feels too good to be true already and I know I’m extremely fortunate to have had the savings to take the pay-cut in the first place, but I also know I would have liked to know there ARE companies that care about your work/life balance AND will still pay well, when I was in my dark, stressed, no-way-out headspace at my old job. They do exist!

    1. A Feast of Fools*

      Yaaayyyy!!! I’m so glad you included this update.

      It really, truly helps others (or, at least, *me*) to hear that good jobs with good companies exist, and so we shouldn’t settle for toxic environments and/or bad fits.

      This internet stranger is genuinely, sincerely, deeply happy for you.

    2. Marion Ravenwood*

      I’m so glad things have worked out for you OP. And well done on your raise too! Have a wonderful holiday season :)

    3. 404_FoxNotFound*

      yesss, I’m super happy to hear this additional tidbit, in addition to your earlier updates. 3 cheers for all this good news and things that leave you in a better overall life/stress/health place

  8. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    Excellent, got out of toxic workplace, got some vacation, had decent vacation saved up and a financial windfall not spent and available for downpayment!
    One thing i was surprised at is that Alison did not suggest a mental health leave of absence from the first job but thats water under the bridge now.

    As for recovery don’t consider it complete and the fact you only took two months as being binding. Get some therapy, take some generous vacations, explore some hobbies or relationships, be extra good to yourself. Even consider an extended leave if possible from work with the unlimited PTO.

  9. Zweisatz*

    Love to read the update!
    OP, I just wanted to caution you to not provide “your best work possible” at your new job at a disservice to your own health. You sound like your work product would still be excellent if you gave 80 % or maybe even 60 %.
    Your new job sounds like the perfect environment to find out what a healthy new normal can look like for you and I just want to remind you that you don’t have to perform outstanding feats and run at 150 % every day to be a very good employee. You are still in a business relationship where money in exchange for work is the deal and you don’t have to be extraordinarily grateful to be treated right. You can of course feel grateful! But you deserved this treatment all along.
    So please focus on what’s sustainable and healthy for you because I think your company will be impressed either way.

    1. new kid*

      I wish more people would celebrate this mindset honestly. If you’re a conscientious employee who does good work (which OP definitely sounds like), you don’t owe your employer 100%! And in fact, you may end up doing yourself a disservice as the employer realizes they can pile on more and more and gains an unrealistic expectation of the how much work it’s actually taking you to sustain that. Something I’ve learned the hard way over my career but such an important lesson.

      1. Zweisatz*

        Exactly. I’m somewhat of an “insecure overachiever” (to quote a very good article) myself and I know that my work product is still very good if I don’t keep it at 100 %. It means that I get better work life balance while decidedly not short-changing my employer.

        OP, I definitely don’t want to dismiss your worries about dealing with more scrutiny in a white male dominated field. But I would also assume that finding a good employer will alleviate that pressure at least.

  10. Ally McBeal*

    I think I commented on the original post that I was doing something very similar – I quit my communications job at the end of 2020 and coasted on savings for several months. I won’t lie, the job search vs. savings race was stressful, especially because I tried applying for jobs before I was fully ready, so my heart wasn’t in it, and I got ghosted by several recruiters, but 11 months later I landed a good job that I enjoy so far, AND I have the mental energy/fortitude to work now. Everyone in this country deserves a 6-month paid sabbatical once this pandemic is “over” – we’re all so burned out.

  11. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    Always take your PTO time off!
    Even if you don’t go anywhere on vacation and just use the week to catch up on things around the house, you’ll be glad you took the time off to not think about work.

  12. Slow Gin Lizz*

    OP, I am so so so very happy to hear this update!!! I too started a new job recently and it’s so much better than my old job (which wasn’t that bad, honestly) and I also just moved to a much nicer (and cheaper! what?) new home since the new job is WFH and I didn’t need to live in the higher rent area close to OldJob. My happiness level is through the roof now that I have made these improvements. I hope your happiness continues to climb as well. Congratulations!!!

  13. JR*

    I think it’s quite likely that if you calculate your income per hour actually worked, it went up. Only a 10k pay cut to switch from a high-pressure long-hours white-collar job to a more sane version of the same thing is a great deal, one that even many people who aren’t that burned out would take!

  14. Ann*

    I’d love to know how you found this company. In other words, What sources did you search? What did you look for in the job description. What questions did you ask in the interview process? So many companies will pay lip service to work/life balance, but so few actually deliver. Congratulations!

    1. Windfall OP*

      Honestly I found it through networking on LinkedIn – I reached out to friends and coworkers who seemed happier than me (not hard to be, to be fair) at their jobs and asked if there were openings! I made sure to only reach out to people I’d trust to give me an honest opinion on whether the working culture/environment was solid before I applied. I was looking for companies that emphasized work/life balance and stayed far away from companies that included “positive” things in their job descriptions like ‘our employees are a family’, ‘we’re a tight-knit group’, ‘exciting and fast-paced’, and anything else that sounded like a way to hide ‘we spend so much time together that we don’t see our actual families’.

Comments are closed.