I’ve discovered that people use expression "Work hard, play hard" as a way to explain treating themselves something nice. The expressions itself often comes from their workplace. At first, this felt ok to me, but when taking into account Financial Independence / Early Retirement, I can see that one’s employer can be incentivized in one following this expression. Let’s see how.


Work hard, play hard. Sounds pretty innocent and reasonable. You do a great job, you get to enjoy its results and “rest”. It also seems to make sense to use your time as efficiently as possible in both cases:

  • when working - to improve your results,
  • when resting - to rest better and to have more fun.

Often “Play hard” part involves spending a lot of money. E.g. one could consider vacation nearby (e.g. if they live in Germany, some city in Germany or neighboring country) or some exotic far away destination (like Costa Rica). In the process one can say “I worked very hard, now I deserve playing hard, so Costa Rica it is”. You see the principle.

Here comes FIRE

“Work hard, play hard” makes sense before one knows about FIRE. I have to admit that at some point in my life even I used “Play hard” part to decide whether to spend money. However in the context of FIRE, it is very easy to see dangers of this expression and why it can be good for one’s employer.

Incentive #1 (obvious one): Work Hard for productivity

Employers love when one works hard. They are extremely incentivized to make this the case. The harder their employee works, the better the results are, the more money employer makes. Normally one doesn’t get all the benefit which they produce at work propagated back to them. Thus, even after a raise or a bonus for good work, the employer still benefits from one’s hard work.

Incentive #2 (another obvious one): Play Hard for rest

In order to be able to work hard, you need to recharge your energy well. Otherwise, you will burn out. Thus, based on the previous incentive, employers also love when you rest very well and recharge before coming to work. Thus, if one spends their personal time for their own very effective rest, this is very positive for their employer (better performance, more money) and somewhat positive to the person (somewhat more money theoretically, burnout sucks).

Incentive #3 (surprising): Play Hard to spend

This one is hard to notice without FIRE. Basically, imagine that your salary is magically 2 million EUR per month. After couple months, you could likely quit, since you will have enough money in your stash (not for getting 2kk EUR monthly during your FIRE, but still enough). And now imagine that your employer manages to convince you to “Play Hard”. Heck, you are making 2 million EUR per month. You can spend 1.8 million EUR every month and still save 200k. You will still save more than majority of people. Very few people earn that much, so you deserve this! Then you find many fancy ways to spend a lot of money. Inflate your lifestyle. After vacation on a yacht in the Caribbean and an amazing 10 room apartment with a jacuzzi (or 5), having a vacation in Stuttgart or living in a studio apartment feels hard. And now you can’t quit anymore. You need a lot of money to support such a lifestyle. By saving 10% of your income, you need ~51.4 years to save for your retirement.

You probably don’t get payed 2kk EUR monthly (otherwise, wow, I am proud that you read this). However, the same approach applies to any salary. I just exaggerated the example to make it easier to digest.

Incentive #4 (questionable): Play Hard to not grow

Imagine that you don’t know about “Play Hard” and just work. In the evening, you tinker with various projects, learn new skills. In some sense, this is good for your employer, because theoretically you may become more productive. But at the same time, this makes your more valuable on the job market. The raises are usually lower than starting bonuses (i.e. one will likely end up with more money by changing a job instead of getting a raise). Thus, in this case there is a risk that you will leave your employer. E.g. some other company notices your projects and makes a more generous offer. Or you can even start a startup. I feel like the risk of losing you is higher for the employer than the benefits from your learning. And with “Play Hard” you are directed to just have fun without long lasting effects (except rest and spending money). I understand that for some of us, “playing” may involve learning or tinkering, but in the general case this is considered work and normally people wouldn’t use this activities for their leisure time. Even though it would make them much happier (e.g. due to being in the flow, according to “The science of wellbeing” course, summary of which I already posted ).


Thus, if you notice yourself using “I worked hard, I may play hard” argument, especially to spend more money, try to stop for a moment and reconsider. Is this really what you want? Is this really beneficial for you and your life? I am pretty sure there are enough cases when it is, but your employer may be heavy incentivized in you following this expression.

Another funny way to understand this expression could have been “Work Hard” = “Save for FIRE”, “Play Hard” = “Enjoy FIRE”, but even this does not work well. This seams to involve life style inflation and implicitly says that your FIRE saving phase sucks and you won’t “work” during FIRE. It doesn’t have to be this way. Ideally your lifestyle shouldn’t change much. You just replace ordinary job time (i.e. 40h a week) with some other activities, which you enjoy more. This can be whatever you like (even just continue working).

Thus, I would rephrase the expression as “Work reasonably ok, analyze incentives, consider saving for FIRE, enjoy your life in the ways you like (this does not have to be rest or expensive “play”, but it may”.

Happy effective work and conscious rest!