At the age of 30 Thu Thuy became the head of her department with a high salary but quit two years later as there was little work-life balance.
The 32-year-old, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, says: “I’m the best employee in any company I work for.”
Two years ago, when she was promoted as the head of a department in an education start-up, she got a salary of VND50 million ($2,100).
“My income doubled, but the pressure was ten times more.” So much so that at the end of last year, after considering it for many months, she decided to quit her job and even forwent her Lunar New Year bonus, which would have been equal to a few months of her salary.
In 2020, Ta Quy Ton, 35, of Bac Ninh Province decided to sell his car, give up meetings with clients in five-star restaurants in shiny suits and quit as deputy director of a bank with a salary of VND80 million to become a farmer.
“My relatives and friends were completely against my decision, but I decided to walk away because I had not been happy with the job for a long time,” he says.
Ta Quy Ton and his farm in 2021. Photo by Ta Quy Ton
Thuy and Ton were managers with salaries six to 10 times an average Vietnamese worker gets and successful in many people’s eyes.
A job market survey in 2022 by VietnamWorks of people at management level and above found that when factors like salary and bonus are no longer a differentiator, the main reason to change jobs or quit is the working environment and company culture (34% of respondents).
Another survey by recruitment consulting company Anphabe in September 2022 also showed similar results.
It found middle-level managers under the most pressure, which led to a work-life imbalance, the reason why Thuy and Ton decided to quit their jobs.
Ton was satisfied with his income but says his job was stressful and consumed all his time. He constantly had to meet clients and sign contracts at the drinking table.
“I would return home drunk five days a week. I wondered what would happen to my life if I continued to live like this.”
His working environment was strict and he did not have many opportunities to express himself, he says.
”Every day was so boring I felt like a robot. I no longer had the meaning and fulfillment in my work I desired.”
Thuy says because of KPI she had to put pressure on her subordinates, who used to be her colleagues, which isolated her from them.
Every day she had to work with CEOs, CFOs and other top managers on strategies, new products and sales, which was stressful.
“I lost sleep, my stomach hurt and I cried a lot because of anxiety. I went to the hospital regularly like going to the supermarket, but I did not dare take days off.”
She regularly returned home after 9 p.m. and by then would be so tired she did not have time to talk to her boyfriend or family.
Sometimes she had to cancel dates with her boyfriend on weekends because of her work. Last year she broke up with him, and this caused her to lose motivation. She would wake up in the middle of the night and question the path down which her career was going.
She had to go to a therapist who merely recommended that she should take time off to rest and seek fun in other activities. But that was almost impossible because she could not reduce her time at work.
Truong Thanh Hung, vice chairman of the National Innovation Startup Advisory Council, says in modern society a high salary is a necessary factor for happiness, but not the only one since it depends on a balance between material and spiritual factors.
Work-life balance was the most important factor (73%) for people looking for a job in Vietnam last year, a survey by human resource solutions company Grove HR and UK data analysis company YouGov found.
The survey also found that nearly half (49%) intended to change jobs. Of the respondents, 71% were aged between 18 and 34 and 70% lived in urban areas.
Bao Nguyen, director of Grove HR, says attracting talent does not depend merely on salaries since people look for more than just money in their jobs.
SocialLife’s survey came up with similar results. It found a high income was only the seventh most important factor behind others like opportunities for professional development, job stability, compatibility with personal interests, creative space, promotion opportunities, and the company’s responsibility toward society.
According to Assoc Prof Nguyen Duc Loc, head of SocialLife, sociologists developed the concept of human capital, which includes factors like finance, academic culture, society, and symbolic capital. Any of them can become a basis for a person to achieve happiness, he says. For example, people who are in a business environment might attach importance to finance, and could be happy if they have a lot of money, whereas people who value society prioritize building relationships over money, he says.
Considering her family’s situation, Thuy’s original target at work was to earn a really high income. So when she received the VND50 million salary for the first time, she thought she had achieved happiness. She could buy whatever she wanted, eat things she never thought she could afford and give her parents gifts that would make them proud of her.
But soon her excitement died down as she realized she had to sacrifice too much.
Ton says he wanted to study construction at university, but his parents wanted him to have a banking career, and he listened to them.
“This job did suit my personality. Even when I was working there I dreamed of starting a business and building my own career.”
Hung of the National Innovation Startup Advisory Council says people should understand that money cannot bring happiness and greed is the leading cause of imbalance in life.
Thuy is currently not looking for a new job. But she is considering applying to work as an employee to ensure life is less stressful.
Ton has returned to his hometown to farm and plans to start a business. The Covid pandemic was challenging for him financially but at least he returned to his old self and is now gradually building a career that he wants.
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