"Benefits": the Holy Grail of the workplace

I just realized, last week I said I’d post some personal/professional news and then I forgot to do it. So here it is. As many of you know, for the past year I’ve been working for the city schools as a contract web developer. Well, a permanent, full-time position opened up and they offered it to me. So, starting on April 16, I’ll officially be a city school employee, with the title of Senior Applications Programmer.

Really, there won’t be much difference in my job duties from what I’m doing now as a contractor. Same projects, same cubicle, same hours, everything.

Funny, I think some of the people I’ve told are more excited for me than I am for myself. “Oh, Paul, they’re hiring you permanently? That’s great, because now you’ll get BENEFITS.” And they look at me like I’m golden… I’ve finally made it.

I’ve never understood why benefits are the Holy Grail that everyone strives for. Yeah, I’ll get health insurance, but I’ll also get paid about 20% less than I got as a contractor, which means I had enough extra money to buy my own insurance. And yeah, they’ll contribute to my retirement, which is nice, but I’ve had a Roth IRA for several years on my own so it’s not a big deal.

I’ll also get vacation, but honestly, I kinda liked that part of it better as a contractor. If I didn’t feel like coming in, I just wouldn’t come in, and they didn’t pay me. Under that system I could take as little or as much time off as I wanted. Now I’ll have to start carefully planning my vacation days. There’s also the problem of not having ANY vacation days as of BBQ Fest, which means I’ll have to talk to them and see if it’s a big deal to take unpaid time as an employee.

So, if being a contractor was an OK deal, why did I agree to give it up and go permanent? Two reasons. One is the title – “Senior Applications Programmer.” The word “Senior” on a resume is worth an extra $10-20K a year. The other thing is, the city schools really aren’t a bad place to work – laid-back environment, the people are easy to get along with, casual dress, plenty of opportunities for training. If I were to remain a contractor, I’d have to constantly worry that the budget could be reshuffled, eliminating my position, and potentially forcing me back into the stressful corporate world. The city schools job is about as good as office jobs get. I can’t see myself quitting, unless it’s for a job that gives me the freedom to work when and where I want, or the chance to start my own company – but neither of those opportunities is currently on the horizon.

Am I excited about going permanent? Yeah, but I’m equally as excited about advancing to the next round of the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament (see last night’s post). That’s a case of misplaced priorities, huh?