Hourly vs. Salary: Why Being an Hourly Employee Works for Me

Recently, I found myself explaining Atomic’s employee “punching” system (known as PunchIt) to a friend. PunchIt is a piece of software that allows every Atomic employee to punch our time in 15-minute increments across various tasks. For our designers, developers, and delivery leads, PunchIt is an important tool. It tracks billable hours worked so our accountants can bill clients accurately. This also means that every Atomic employee is an hourly employee instead of a salaried employee.

So, as a marketer with no billable expectation to a client, why was I punching my time hourly? How did I benefit from being an hourly employee instead of a salaried employee? I have to be honest, when I first started at Atomic, I felt daunted by the idea of punching my time and “hitting my 40” (aka working 40 hours a week). Now, a little over two and a half years later, I’ve come to appreciate being an hourly employee and have become a real PunchIt superfan. Wondering what the benefits are of being a “corporate” hourly employee? Here are a few of my favorites:

You rarely work over 40 hours a week. And if you do, you’re paid for that time.

In all of my former roles, I worked as a salaried employee. Having a salary felt like a grown-up thing, lightyears away from my hourly work at the local coffee shop. I felt excited about taking an hour off for lunch and not having to tell anyone about it, just going with that salary flow! My schedule typically looked like this:

  • 8 a.m. – noon: Show up at the office and work on tasks
  • noon-1 p.m.: Take lunch
  • 1 – 5 p.m.: Continue work on tasks and head home

If you’re good at math, you’ll see that I was working 8 hours with a 1-hour break for lunch across the span of 9 hours. This process worked for me! I got my work done, I made my salaried income, and I went home… until extra work came along. As my skills grew, I was invited to “booth” at out-of-state trade shows or host local events at our HQ. So my schedule quickly moved from 8 hours of work plus a 1-hour lunch to:

  • 7 – 8 a.m.: Answer emails at home before heading into the office
  • 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.: Show up at the office and work on tasks
  • 5 – 9 p.m.: Host a local event and clean up afterward

What used to be a steady eight hours of work turned into 12-14 hour days with no change in my take-home pay. I felt burned out and had little to show financially for my investment in the company. Flash forward to my current hourly position. If a marketing event comes up or some out-of-state travel comes along, I am paid for each hour I am working. So if I take a jaunt over to our Chicago office for a photoshoot, I’m paid for the additional hours I’m working or traveling.

Outside of those bigger, planned trips, I typically work 41-42 hours per week. How do I know that? Because I can see my punched time! Having the data on how much I’m working has helped me to understand my work boundaries.

Scheduling SNAFU? Hourly is flexible.

Speaking of boundaries, the line between work and outside of work is always a tricky one to define. If I have a dentist appointment in the middle of a Wednesday, do I need to take the day off? How do I ensure that I’m getting my work done AND meeting my work expectations?

As an hourly employee working on a team of folks who respect and trust me, I can use my hourly status as a tool for flexibility. Rather than taking off the entire afternoon and using PTO for my dentist appointment, I can just work an additional two hours across the other days of the week. As long as I hit my 40 hours and communicate my schedule with my team, I’ll be okay! This has been wonderful, as we all know how precious PTO is. In my former roles, a mid-day dentist appointment might mean using a half-day of PTO (aka four hours), thus cutting into my vacation time.

Make hourly work work for you.

Though it took time to adjust to this new way of working, hourly work has become one of the highlights of my job. Not only do I understand how much I actually work every week, but I can also tweak my daily work routine to gel with my outside-of-work needs with minimal disruption and no use of PTO.

What payment model does your company use? Would an hourly model work for you? Share your thoughts!