Is It Ever a Good Idea to Take a Pay Cut?

Allison Kade

pay cutHave you ever been tempted to accept a pay cut?

When evaluating a job, there are many different factors to consider in addition to salary. There’s the job itself, your level of responsibility, your title, potential for future growth, and so on. There are also compensation perks like vacation time, bonuses and company equity to factor in.

So, should salary be your primary focus? Is there ever a good time to willingly take a pay cut? We spoke to HR experts and real people who have been through it before, to learn when it is—and isn’t—worth accepting a job at a lesser salary.

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Here are seven times you may consider taking a pay cut, and what the experts had to say.

1. When You’re Making a Career Change

One of the big reasons to take a pay cut is if you’re switching industries. It may be worth a cut in pay “to gain a new set of skills and experiences that will broaden your skill set,” says Trellis Usher, founder of HR company T.R. Ellis Group. “It’s unreasonable to expect to receive top dollar when you move into a role where you have little to no experience. In these situations, it’s usually a longer-term play to take a cut in pay so you can make a significant jump in pay after 18 to 24 months.”

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David Bakke of remembers when he took a pay cut a few years ago because he wanted to get out of the restaurant industry. “I was tired of all the long hours and weekend work,” he says. “My new position involved a salary cut of roughly 10%, but also afforded me more time to spend with family and friends. Plus, the health insurance benefit was better than at my restaurant position, and I had all major holidays off.” At the end of the day, you can’t expect one industry to meet the salary expectations of a totally different field.

“Would you be happy to take a slight pay cut if you could skip your commute and work from home on Fridays?”

2. When You Crave Work-Life Balance

A recent survey by the talent acquisition and career development firm Mom Corps found that 45% of working adults are willing to give up some percentage of their salary for more flexibility at work—on average, they’re willing to relinquish nearly 8.6% of their income.

“I think the greatest takeaway from this statistic is that salary isn’t everything for everyone,” says Allison O’Kelly, founder and C.E.O. of Mom Corps. “Would you be happy to take a slight pay cut if you could skip your commute and work from home on Fridays? Would starting your own business make you a more fulfilled and happy professional, and allow you to work in the manner that you want to?”

Usher made a similar switch in her own life: “I took a job that required less travel and allowed me to work from home a couple of days a week after having a new baby. I wanted to stay in the corporate arena without losing too much ground, but needed to take on a role that was less demanding because of my family needs,” she says.

Similarly, LeeAnn Shattuck took a 15% pay cut 13 years ago when she left Accenture, then called Anderson Consulting, to join IBM. “I had been working 80 hours a week with Accenture, traveling five days a week. IBM offered me the opportunity to stop traveling and work from home,” she said. Even after all this time, she’s never regretted the decision.

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  • New career soon?

    This is a great article. I’ve been debating what to do career wise. My current job is a high paying job but not necessarily what I wanted to do with my education. I started looking and applying for new jobs and I now have come to terms that I will have to take a pay cut but will eventually be able to move up with experience and certifications needed. I may have to take a $10,000-$20,000 pay cut but I’ll be ready for the cut by paying off my student loans early.

  • Meredith

    There are two considerations I make when choosing a job: 1. Is it something I want to do that I find rewarding and challenging?
    2. Can I comfortably live on the salary being offered?

    I have worked both in a big city and in a small one during my career, and so my income has fluctuated accordingly. I’ve always hated the need to justify taking a hit in salary to potential employers, because the assumption is that I am primarily motivated by money, when, aside from the need to pay my bills and eat, I am not.

    Oftentimes, employees are overworked at a position and offered bonuses or a raise to compensate them. I would rather my company have be adequately staffed for the work they do (avoiding burnout and high stress levels and employing more people). My quality of life is more important than my bank account. Often employers pay you a lot and then act like they own you.

    I guess this article is necessary in our country because we overemphasize money and underemphasize relationships and community, but I hope the day comes when an article like this is considered common sense.

  • Broke Lady

    I’m glad they reminded you to take this seriously. I was miserable for so long at my old job and was losing my mind, but took a huge paycut I couldn’t afford to get out of there for something that wasn’t my dream job. It’s been VERY hard on us. It’s my own fault for not understanding what a difference that money would make, but make sure you really can afford it! At the time I said I would be so happy to have left my old job that I’d happy work a second job to make ends meet. I really don’t enjoy having to work a second job at 30 years old with masters degree, and a husband who works the opposite shift who I never see!