A lovely journalist named Patty interviewed me recently about the FIRE (Financial Independence Early Retirement) community and the rapid growth of the movement. She is very interested and supportive of the idea but asked an honest question from the view point of HR departments and companies: “Is this FIRE movement going to ruin the economy as the best and brightest jump ship from corporate life?”
First let’s look at who these FIRE folks really are and the traits they share in common. In the most general brush strokes, those I have gotten to know in this community posses these characteristics:
Driven, tenacious, steadfast
Committed, dedicated to goals
Creative, innovative, imaginative
Creators, builders, dreamers, inventors
Those combined traits are what make achieving early retirement possible. Often these people are the very best and brightest.
What exactly are we bankrupting by leaving the 9-5?
There will be a huge brain drain in the work force as the best and brightest pack their bags and leave the standard 9-5. But the only losers will be inflexible companies unwilling to adapt.
The loss will be for companies who fail to recognize and accommodate a new generation’s desire to grow, challenge, create, and have a meaningful lasting impact. The best and brightest will keep expenses low, grow the gap between their expenses and income, and invest the difference. Once the FIRE crowd no longer needs the income benefit from their job, companies that have nothing else to offer will be abandoned.
Where will the best and brightest go?
When we no longer need any income or much income, FIRE workers start pouring all our driven, creative, innovation energy into other places.
We might get snagged up by start up companies.
We might create start ups or small businesses of our own.
We might take to writing, blogging, books, art or music.
We might pour own energy into volunteer work or start new non profits.
We might make our families a priority and funnel our time into traveling, exploring, or investing in the public school system.
Inflexible business’ will be bankrupted of the best talent, but our society will be richly rewarded.
FIRE workers will find the kinds of work where they can create the most impact, leveraging their unique skills, passions, and personality.
Because we no longer need a high paying job to cover our mortgage (we probably already paid that off!), we can find the most exciting, meaningful, impactful use of our time.
No ones keeps expenses low, rapidly grows their income, and invests all the difference in order to watch Netflix 10 hours a day during their “early retirement.”
Is it possible for corporations to woo FIRE talent back?
I think so. But bean bag chairs and free food won’t cut it.
There needs to be a respect and acknowledgment that this 9-5 isn’t our entire life, hope and dreams. We have other big dreams. Dreams that don’t fit into a long weekend. We want to hike the Appalachian Trail. Travel through South East Asia. Code a new cutting edge app. Write a book. Travel with our family. Renovate or build a home. Volunteer overseas.
Companies who are in dire need of the best and brightest can attract and hold on to this talent by meeting them half way.
10% more paid vacation, usable in 3-12 month chunks.
That’s it. After 2.5 years, we could take 3 months off. Or bank it to take longer mini retirements. 6 months after 5 years. Or 1 year after 10 years of work.
If we know that every 2.5 years we can take 3 months off, we will sit still and get some work done. As people return from their adventures, the excitement will motivate workers who are closing in on their own adventures.
In every stretching, challenging experience, we grow as people. The employee that comes back will not only be better rested, but full of fresh creativity and insights. That energy and excitement is contagious.
After I published my PDF guide “6 simple steps to taking a year off every decade,” I asked a few other FIRE writers if they thought corporations would ever adopt HR practices to help facilitate these kinds of mini-retirements. Let’s just say the FIRE crowd is a cynical bunch.
I think the smart companies will adjust to the needs of the upcoming workforce. As the FIRE movement grows across the US, smart, innovative companies will want to attract and hold on to this kind of talent longer. The most committed FIRE advocates might not stay forever, but the “one more year” syndrome will work in a companies favor if they generously sprinkle in 3 month mini-retirements.
In just the main demographic of my audience (24-40 years old), I would say 75% would stay an extra 5-10 years if they had been given 3 months leave every 2.5 years.
Here is the crazy thing. The FIRE crowd would foot most of the bill… gladly. If companies would implement small shifts in accounting and HR practices, we would happily trade an extra 10% of pay for this benefit. We only need three more things. 1. Promise us our old job back (or something similar) and 2. Let us keep our health care. 3. Celebrate and encourage us to dream big for that time away. Let us excitedly plan it. And talk all about it when we get back. Make it a big deal. Post our travel photos up around the office. Whatever you do, don’t give it begrudgingly. Or make us feel bad for taking it.
This kind of policy would dramatically shift a few things:
- Companies would attract the creative, innovative, committed workers
- Companies would retain the best and brightest longer
- The excitement and innovation would spread as these big dreams are celebrated
- Work sharing (during the mini retirements) would give younger workers the professional challenge and growth opportunities they are craving
We didn’t seek out FIRE because it’s an easy path. For most of us it meant 10+ years of saving 40-70% of our income. We do it because it’s seems to be the only option to achieve our personal goals and dreams.
Give us a better option. And we might take it.
Or don’t. Then sit back and watch all the cool things we do with our FIRE life. Your loss will be societies gain.
If you would have had 3 months for every 2.5 years, what kinds of things would you have done?
If you had competing job offers $55k a year vs $50k a year with 3 months paid leave every 2.5 years, which would you have taken when you were in your 20’s? Plus you knew about all the really cool things other employees had done with their time off because the company bragged about that all the time.
At this point, do you think it would make it harder to walk away from a company that facilitated, encouraged and celebrated the contributions we make outside of the company?
If you work in/influence HR or want to chat more about implementing these ideas, shoot me an email. I heart HR. email@example.com
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