When most people think about underemployment, they don’t’ think of it as a good thing.
Underemployment means there is a mismatch between your job and your skills and experience. Meaning, you could be making more money and have a more challenging, “better” job.
On the surface being underemployed doesn’t seem to have benefits. After all, who doesn’t want to make more money?
You could be making more money that would help you reach your financial goals faster. You could also be doing work that is more challenging and, in theory, more fulfilling.
Depending on your goals, there may be benefits to being underemployed, though. Let’s discuss a few of the benefits.
Want to Work for Yourself? Being Underemployed Can Help
Being underemployed typically is associated with being bored. A 2016 report by Gallup reported that 55% of millennials are not engaged at their job, with an additional 16% “actively disengaged.”
After spending seven years in the corporate workforce, this isn’t surprising. A direct quote from a few years ago from a friend who had just started working after college was “I was surprised at just how little was expected of me.”
Now we could go into all the ins and outs of why millennials (and non-millennials) are not engaged at their 9-5, but we’ll save that for another post. The point here is that you are more likely to be disengaged and underemployed than to not be.
When this happens you can look for a new job or look to move up, but I urge you to first consider what your long-term goals are. Is it really your goal to be a director, VP, or executive at a business? Is that your end goal? Or would you be much happier, healthier, and fulfilled working for yourself?
This is a very important question to answer. If your ultimate goal is to work for yourself and own a business, you need to seriously consider how you react to being underemployed. Taking on a new job or moving up and taking on additional responsibilities may not be the smartest thing to do.
One of the things I talk about in Hustle Away Debt is the unexpected upside of side hustles. Technology has made it possible to literally build and run a business from your phone. Never before in the history of the world has anything remotely close been possible.
You do not have to quit your job to start a business.
Let that sink in.
You can have all the benefits and protections that come with a 9-5 while you test out your business idea in your spare time. If the business doesn’t catch on or pan out, you can quit and move on to the next thing without personally going bankrupt.
While technology has made this infinitely easier, if not altogether possible, building a business still takes time and effort. And doing all that work on top of a 9-5 is tough, regardless of how overqualified you are for your current job.
If you want to be self-employed, being underemployed can be a blessing. At one point in my career I nearly sold my blog and moved on from side hustles so that I could dedicate more time and energy to a promotion I had received. In the end I’m glad I didn’t – I received a book offer just a few months later.
If you need capacity to work on your side hustle and your ultimate goal is to work for yourself, then count being underemployed as a benefit.
Your “Season” of Life Could Make Underemployment a Huge Benefit
Everyone goes through challenging and busy times in life. Whether it’s having a new baby, dealing with a health problem, or something else, there are seasons of life where a lot of your energy is going to be used up outside of your 9-5.
In these seasons being underemployed can be a benefit. You may even need to be underemployed just to get through the challenge or responsibility that you have outside of work.
I’m being intentionally ambiguous here, but I think anyone reading this will be able to identify a time in their life when they or someone they know was unable to be fully present at their 9-5 and gave a lot of energy towards situations outside of work.
It goes without saying that being prepared financially for these situations is always helpful. I know many 20- and 30-somethings who have the option to contribute to an HSA but choose not to because they are healthy. Then when they have a huge unexpected medical situation that requires thousands and thousands of dollars they are left wondering why they didn’t just plan ahead and contribute before they needed the money.
Less Stress at Your 9-5
For many a job is just “a job.” While I talk a lot on this site about making as much as you can at your 9-5 through salary research and other strategies, I also recognize that many simply do not want to be “maxed out” at their 9-5. Or perhaps they want to reach a certain level of employment and then stop trying to go higher, allowing them to avoid any unnecessary stress stemming from their 9-5 and enjoy their free time.
This of course is all relative. There’s always a chance management will change, expectations will change, and your job will change. Nothing is guaranteed at a 9-5, which is why I am so big on promoting the power of side hustles, even if it’s just a small income stream. It protects you if things change at your workplace and your low stress job becomes high stress with long hours.
I’m stating the obvious here, but being underemployed can be a good spot to be in because you can always move up. Employers are having a difficult time finding qualified workers, and those who are underemployed are prime targets to fill open positions. After all, being underemployed implies that you are over-qualified for your current role, making you qualified for higher-paying jobs employers are trying to fill.
Are you underemployed or have you been underemployed in the past? Have you benefited from being underemployed?