The next time you are slogging through months of 60-hour workweeks wondering where large sections of your life went while at the same time periodically snapping at your friends and family for absolutely no reason, think back to this post and try to explore your options. Life is too short.
But I get it. I’m not going to sell any books hyping a 32-hour workweek. It’s just not as sexy as the four-hour workweek. But what if I said this 32-hour workweek came with full-time benefits?
Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything here. Ideas are free here at Max Out of Pocket.
I used to read article after article about people retiring early and having all the flexibility in the world. I was envious. They could travel, sit around on the beach, volunteer, start a business, or just do nothing. Here I was working 60+ hour weeks. I supercharged my savings rate to make their option my reality. I was pretty successful. But did I need to go to all that effort?
As time went on, my view on this started to evolve. What I was really craving was flexibility. I already had enough FU money to decide where I work, where I live, and where I play. I didn’t necessarily need to retire early to prove I could do what I want. Just a few small tweaks provided some of the flexibility I wanted. But could I do better?
A few months ago, I noticed my employer released an updated policy outlining the requirements to be considered a regular full-time employee. The Human Resources department at my health system got creative and named it the “Employee-Classification” policy. This policy is used to determine benefit eligibility. I was surprised to find out only working 32 hours met the requirements to be considered a full-time employee; a full-time employee with full health benefits.
Is this even more of the flexibility I am looking for?
Max: The Workaholic
I’ll admit it, at times throughout my career, I have struggled with balance. My first job out of college quickly offered “unlimited-overtime”. It was on a high priority travel project in Ohio that one of our clients had me working on. There is not a lot going on in Ohio (unless you count Sandusky), so it is a good place to be in when an “unlimited-overtime” opportunity presents itself. My first job paid an hourly wage that turned into time-and-a-half for overtime. This adds up quickly.
Fortunately, this was also a 100% travel position, so my expenses dropped dramatically for close to a year. Considering I had virtually $0.00 saved at that time, higher income with almost $0.00 expenses was a great combination to have. I also got to live in fancy hotels and became a Marriott Platinum member. Free meals and rental cars also came with the deal. I worked a ton that first year and would not take it back. I enjoyed the work and experience.
Salary Position – No More Time Clock
When I got exposed to a salary position a few years into my career, the work became much more analytical. I was all in. With the help of a mentor, those skills matured, and my skillset became a much-needed resource. It almost seemed as if there was unlimited value to provide to my organization. I would often work Sunday evenings and late nights when projects demanded it.
Working in healthcare finance, it is often easy to quantify the exact dollar value of efforts. It’s a nice feeling. I probably learned the most in those formative years of my career. I also worked a lot and wouldn’t take it back because I enjoyed the work.
This has been a common theme. I like to work and work hard on projects I am interested in. But after moving to New England, I became more interested in having the choice of what I work on. That might be skiing, working out, writing a blog, attending a bar, healthcare finance, building a house, or operating a lift at a ski resort. The thing is, working 55-65 hours a week didn’t leave much time to even make a choice.
Max: Cutting Back
These days I have a much better balance on things.
I eventually went through back-to-back-to-back electronic health records (EHR) implementations. These projects will suck the life out of just about anyone. Although they were a great learning experience, it is usually over a year of planning followed by another six months to a year or more of “stabilization” depending on the system. It got me away from what I wanted to be working on and made me put my “regular work” aside. The last EHR implementation was the first taste I had of working on something that really didn’t interest me. We also had an unexpected death in the family around that time and that certainly didn’t help things or my attitude.
The 8-Hour Day, a Novel Idea
Since then I have been making a conscious effort to work a more normal schedule. Over the last 9 months or so, I regularly leave work at about 4:30 pm and head to the gym for my weight lifting routine. I usually go into the office between 7:30 am and 8:15 am. My weekly hours have been drifting closer and closer to a normal 40 hour per week schedule. When I first relocated to New England, I was working well over 60 hours a week.
I do not feel bad about the reduced schedule. I am still putting up significant value for my employer and I go all-in for 40 hours. They are reaping the benefits of the sweat equity I developed in those early years.
It seems like I am hitting a sweet spot here. I clearly have plenty of other things I am interested in working on. I am probably approaching the best physical shape of my life. This questionable blog project has been keeping me busy. We squeezed in a trip to Ecuador in late 2019. I even built a $50,000 medical office building portfolio in my free time. But could I take this thing to the next level?
32 Hours Per Week?
One of my hang-ups about taking a sabbatical or even retiring out of healthcare early is medical insurance. My medical insurance is valued at about $22,430 in 2020, up from $21,564 in 2019. I do not want to deal with getting this off the open market or playing the subsidy game if I can help it.
But what if I could retain that “full-time” benefit while working fewer hours. The “Employee-Classification” policy at my current employer allows just that. It says if an employee works a minimum of 32 hours per week, they are considered full-time and get health insurance. The bi-weekly premiums stay the same.
So, someone in my organization working 32 hours per week is getting the same level of healthcare benefits I get from working 40 hours. They also get the same level of benefit when I work for 60 hours. If we do the math, that is a significant benefit.
The employer portion of my premiums is $17,455 in 2020:
$17,455 / 2,080 hours (40-hour workweek) = $8.40 / hour
$17,455 / 1,664 hours (32-hour workweek) = $10.49 / hour
$10.49 hour – $8.40 hour = $2.09
But could I get an approval for a reduced work schedule as a salaried employee? Maybe.
I like to think I am well-liked in my organization. Thankfully, I have common sense and know-how to play nicely with others. This kind of thing goes a long way. But as a financial professional, do I really think I can get approval for a 32-hour workweek?
It would probably be a tough one to explain, but I think I could likely get this through. I have put my time in and demonstrated I add value. That said, I also do not think it would be something easy for me to reverse once I put it in place, at least in my current position.
I would make the case that in a 32-hour workweek I could get most of my core tasks done and continue to support my department. A lot of my work is analytical tasks that are difficult to cross-train people on so keeping me around 32 hours would be the path of least resistance. We could also transition into this cushy scenario over several months with a slow reduction in hours.
Now, I am technically a salaried employee. But on paper, my “rate” is based on a 40-hour work-week just like anyone else. In order to make this agreement work without having to count hours, I would probably opt to try and work 4 days instead of 5 each week.
I would be willing to take a 20% pay cut to make this a reality. I think that would only be fair for both sides. We already have more money saved than we need, so this really wouldn’t impact our day-to-day standard of living.
I usually need to think about these things for about a year before implementing them, so I am not necessarily planning to go this route this week or even in 2020.
There are several projects going on at work that I am really enjoying and I have all the autonomy in the world right now. I also have a ton of paid time off in my bank right now that will give me flexibility.
But I know this policy is there if I need it. If this 32-hour workweek is a trend across the hospital industry, I could probably take advantage of this in other ways. Hospitals are like mini-universities and require a lot of the same type of support staff. I could pivot into a lower stress maintenance or cleaning position and request 32 hours a week. This would open my brain up for other opportunities like the blog, consulting, or freelancing. It would also help me fill up my $572,750 standard deduction bucket.
We will all benefit as organizations continue to get more liberal with their benefit structure. If I was willing to go down to part-time, I could still get health insurance, but it would come with a stiffer premium that would come out of my pocket. That could be an option for phase two of my tiered down early retirement strategy.
Max is all over the board here though. If an interesting project came up at work that required a few 70-hour workweeks, I would probably jump on it, but only if I liked it. It would just have to be interesting and something that was making a difference.
The bottom line is I like to work, but I want to be able to choose what I work on.
How many hours does your company require to capture full-time health insurance benefits?