• External Contributor

I took a pay cut for mental health

I took a pay cut in a time of economic uncertainty. I willfully resigned in peak COVID. I quit my stable job when my industry was flooded with applicants with more experience. I did it for my mental health.

My job looked good from the outside. It was stable (as stable as a job can be mid-pandemic). The organisation was fully government funded. The job itself was good, not too stressful, and suited me. I never worked late, and the pay was great. But my workplace was toxic.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I'd been thinking about leaving my job for months and months, and would go through phases of applying for other positions. But I hadn’t sustained it. I was lucky to have a well-paying job, and it wasn’t that bad, I told myself. I went through ups and downs with applications, and none of them went anywhere.

I eventually hit a breaking point when I had the worst meeting of my career. I jokingly refer to it as ‘the ambush’ to my friends. But it wasn’t really a joke at the time. I felt like the scapegoat for my team. Someone to blame anything and everything that went wrong on. I was told my work wasn’t good enough, even though I’d been around for quite some time with literally no complaints.

I didn’t react at the time. I didn’t really say anything. But I knew how completely unfair and just fucked up the situation was. That thought was only solidified by others’ reactions when I recounted the experience. My friends told me to go to HR, that what I had experienced was bullying. But I just wanted to leave.

The problem with job hunting when you are desperate to get out of a situation is that employers totally hold the power. I tried to remember that I didn’t want to go from one bad thing to another, but I overlooked many things that would usually be red, or at least orange, flags. I applied for multiple jobs every day, over 30 a week, until I finally got an interview.

The job seemed good. The company was a lot smaller than the one I was leaving. It was somewhat in my industry, but definitely not a step up. I saw it as a step sideways, but I doubt everyone would agree that it was. The interview went well, so I stopped applying for jobs, which is not what you’re supposed to do, but at this point applications were taking over my life.

I got the job offer via phone call one afternoon and verbally accepted. They sent the contract the following day and my stomach dropped a little when I saw it. It would be a 25% pay cut after tax. I started googling, looking for some reassurance that taking it was the right thing to do.

‘When should you take a pay cut’

‘Pay cut mental health’

‘Is taking a pay cut okay’

Most articles chronicled workers taking pay cuts to move industries or cities, accept exciting opportunities, or spend more time with family. A couple reassured me, but only slightly. I called my friends and family, strategically making contact with the people I knew would tell me that taking it was the right thing to do.

I knew I was going to take it. I was always going to take it. I couldn’t fathom the idea of saying no to an opportunity to get out of my toxic workplace. I just wanted a few people to tell me that what I was doing was the right decision. The people who did were, expectedly, the ones who had heard me complain about my job the most.

So I took it, of course. I've always heard people talk about feeling a ‘literal weight’ coming off their shoulders when they make a decision like this one. I always thought it was a little hyperbolic, but I felt it. I felt the weight come off, I felt my posture improve, and the upper back pain I’d been experiencing for most of the year was gone.

It’s been a couple of months now and I’m a few pay slips in. And I’m happy to report that I am fine. I’m good actually. I made the right decision. So if you’ve found this article while googling frantically, looking for some reassurance that you’re doing the right thing - you are.