Watch CBSN Live

Should I buck for a raise or do outside work?

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

Is it worth putting in extra time at the job for a small raise, or should I put the time into my side hustles to make more money?

A little background on myself. I'm a mid-twenties ( supervisor) working in a Fortune 500 company. I'm slated to take my boss's job when his boss retires in two years.

It seems like these big companies just give everyone a 2 percent raise, but even if I got 5 percent it wouldn't be a big difference compared to the money I can make putting it a little more time on my blog.

The answer depends on the nature of your "side hustles." If they are bringing in only a couple hundred bucks a month, or if they amount to pipe-dreams that end up costing you more than you can bring in on the off chance that "someday" you're going to catch your big break, you're probably better off focusing your efforts on the office. On the other hand, if you've got a solid plan that appears to be moving forward, it may well be worth focusing on the hustles.

Let's face reality. You don't know for sure that your boss's boss you cited will retire in two years, offering a chance for you to move up. She may decide to keep working, as her 401k isn't doing as well as she'd hoped. And even if she does go, there's no guarantee that her boss won't decide to make an external hire, rather than promoting your boss. Even if your boss does get the promotion, there's no guarantee that he'll promote you to his old position. Two years from now, you could be sitting exactly where you are today, making a mere 2 percent more than you're making now. (Even a promotion may bring a relatively small pay increase, as you know.)

Or in a worse spot. Let me tell you, I've laid off more than my share of people over my career. And some of them had great plans and knew exactly where their career was headed -- right up until their managers said, "Today is your last day." And even if you don't get laid off, you don't know what else is in store. I, for instance, knew full well where my career was headed five years ago. Then the Fortune 100 company I was working for got bought out in the same week as my husband received a job offer in a foreign country. In a matter of minutes, my secure career path became a complete career switch. Poof! 

My point is, even though you know what your career path is at your current company, there's a chance that path will shift in ways that are hard to predict. Will it take you where you want to go? Maybe, maybe not.

So while I would never make the decision for anyone, as it's far too personal, I wouldn't discourage you from pursuing your side ventures, provided you can pull it off financially. If you don't have a clear plan or expectations of where those are going to lead you, you need to think that through. Do you want this to be a side business? Do you want to one day have it be your full-time job? Do you want to take the risks involved in being self-employed? By contrast, do you prefer to live with the risks of being employed by someone else?

One thing is for sure: You can't count on working for the same company from graduation to retirement. The chances of the same company even existing that long is low days. Companies get bought and sold and shut down and expand. You're in your twenties, so you have 30 or 40 years left in the workforce (and that assumes you retire in your 60s, which may be completely unrealistic given most Americans' inadequate retirement savings).

So while there is nothing wrong with making your employment your focus, there's also nothing wrong with planning to branch out.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to

View CBS News In