opportunity cost of your jobThe hours you have available to work represent a fertile field of opportunity to grow in skills, obtain wealth, gather knowledge, gain power and prestige, form strong personal and professional relationships, and to live with a true sense of purpose and satisfaction.

How and where you choose to spend those hours determines the Opportunity Cost of your job.

Think of it in terms of how you choose to spend your money, except your currency is the time you offer in exchange for your labor. Once you spend your money—your work hours—it isn’t available to spend elsewhere.

The question before spending is this: Is the value you receive worth the price you pay, not only for you, but for your marriage as well?

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This value is the Opportunity Cost of your job.

If you are in the nearly three-fourths of employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs, this opportunity cost is possibly too high. You are spending your valuable, limited capital—your time—in exchange for something worth far less.

You can continue on as you are, or you can use your experience as a springboard for some changes in your career/workplace, your perspective, or both.

You expect the situation to change

You’ve seen the lists of the top reasons people hate their jobs, and you nod in agreement as you mentally check off many items yourself.

Rather than harvesting the fruits of a job well done, you realize you are regularly frustrated by management who isn’t willing to lead, annoyed by a boss who is a micro-manager, and disheartened by the bad apples that are publicly lauded and rewarded while your valuable contributions go unnoticed.

Your expectations seem so simple: to be treated as you treat others, with respect, honesty, integrity, flexibility, and a positive attitude, and you just don’t understand how the situation doesn’t for the better.

You might be knee deep in the Big Muddy

Barry Staw coined the phrase “knee deep in the Big Muddy” to describe decision-making in which individuals continue to pour time, money, and effort into something that just isn’t working and shows no sign of ever improving.

This “escalation of commitment” can be seen in jobs in which people just don’t want to let go in spite of clear evidence that there is no change in sight and no solution to make things work the way they are supposed to.

Yet, folks persist in staying, believing they have invested too much to walk away and start anew.

Time to change your point of view

Long ago, my photography instructor taught me that in order to see what I was missing I needed to change my point of view.

I learned there was much that I couldn’t see because I wasn’t looking for it or wasn’t open to seeing it.

The same is true when you are stuck in the Big Muddy at work.

Taking the time to step back will give you the information you need to determine the opportunity cost of your job, and whether you can live with it or if you should leave it.

Determine the Opportunity Cost

First, make a list of the main areas that make up your life: Financial, Family/Marriage, Career, Personal Growth, Physical, Spiritual, and Social.

Beside each area list the opportunity cost or value.

For example, under Career, you may note that you thoroughly dislike your boss, yet you love the work. The long hours you are required to put in may pose a difficulty for your family, and yet the experience is invaluable for your future.

Go through all areas to make as complete a list as possible.

Have your spouse help you, as they can provide another perspective.

I highly recommend doing this over the course of at least one overnight so you come back to the list with fresh eyes and more ideas.

Decide to live with it or leave it

Once you have the list as complete as possible, set aside time to discuss it with your spouse.

Use your values as guideposts, because living a life aligned with your values creates more peace and joy.

Years ago, my husband and I wrapped up an amazing five years as innkeepers—which is pretty much a 24/7 job—with my parents.

My hubby and I agreed on some key points before we started our search for different work. We wanted time to attend church and related activities, volunteer, and have weekends for our family and marriage.

But then I landed my dream job of working for a professional photographer.

My commute was an hour each way, and I worked weekends and often into the evenings.

I was stressed, conflicted, often cried on the way to and from work, but kept at it, thinking it would get better.

Needless to say, we never did a final values check before I took on the position, and I didn’t recognize a Big Muddy when I was waist-deep in one.

You will find, as we did in retrospect, there will be costs and value associated with your job, and the decision to stay or go can be a complex one. I encourage you to keep at it until you come to a decision with which you and your spouse can be at peace.

If you decide the opportunity cost is worth it, yet still have to face a difficult environment, author and business journalist Suzy Welch offers a helpful solution to get through those challenging times.

For more help and hope, be sure to read these posts, too:

Dealing with the Mistress: 4 Considerations for balancing work and home

4 Ways a Midlife Career Change Can Help Your Marriage

When a God Wink feels more like a snake bite

Comment: How have you dealt with the opportunity cost of your job?

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About the author 

Kim Hall

Kim Hall created Too Darn Happy to help you build stronger and more joyful relationships through offerings of fresh perspectives and practical advice. Having been a wife for thirty years and a mom for almost as long to two daughters, she also shares occasional cautionary tales of her own character building life experiences. Kim recently authored her first ebook, Practicing Gratitude and Discovering Joy-Thirty Days to a Happier You. You can connect with Kim on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, too!

Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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  1. Kim– this is such a phenomenal piece, and it perfectly addresses a situation that I’m currently facing with my 9-5 (more like 7:30 – 6:30). Thank you so much for the gift of this article– I am going to do the exercises and talk about it with my husband.

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