That is a really great question—one that almost everyone asks themselves at some point in their career. And as you might expect, the answer is somewhat complicated and not always just a simple yes or no. Let’s begin by examining why you might be asking yourself this question in the first place. Has the thought of changing employers been something you have mulling over for a while now? Or is it perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to a recent unpleasant change or event at your workplace? Also, you need to determine whether you have set any specific career goals for yourself. You can’t decide which road to take if you don’t at least have some idea of the destination.
Consider these questions as well: Is your goal to simply make more money, regardless of the type of work you must perform to obtain it? Do you genuinely like the work itself, but are unhappy with your current pay, immediate boss, or company policies or culture? Are you tired or bored with the type of work you are currently doing and want to pursue something altogether new? You must answer these critical questions honestly before attempting decide if it’s time to work somewhere new.
Follow the Money?
First, let’s talk money. I always advise against pursuing a particular field or line of work simply because it pays really well. Study after study has shown that, at best, money is only a short-term motivator. Once the thrill of a higher paycheck eventually wears off—which it will—odds are you will again feel dissatisfied. Even worse, you may end up shackled with “golden handcuffs.” This is a situation where your lifestyle has become so financially dependent on that big paycheck that you literally cannot afford to ever quit or change jobs. Working at a job you dislike, simply for the money, is like a self-imposed prison sentence with a term of 25 to life. Ideally, you should work at a job you would want to keep even if you won the lottery, not a crazy huge amount, but enough to be financially independent.
Is Your Current Pay Equitable?
Suppose you enjoy the work itself and have no desire to change that aspect of your career. However, you have reached the top of the pay scale for your particular position, making any significant future wage growth unlikely. Is this the root cause of your dissatisfaction? If so, do some research and determine whether your current employer’s compensation is, in fact, actually fair and competitive. If it is not in line with market wages, going to another employer might make sense if the differences in pay, benefits, and other factors are significant. However, before jumping ship, consider another option that is often overlooked.
If, except for the pay, you otherwise like where you work, consider discussing the compensation problem with your manager, union, or the human resources department. While not often quick or easy, convincing an employer to increase wages can be done. Especially in today’s job market, attracting and retaining good employees with competitive pay is something most responsible companies take very seriously. However, the sensitive topic of wages must always be approached very professionally, never with threats of “pay me more or I’ll leave.” When done right, I have seen employers perform market surveys and then, if warranted, make reasonable increases to their wage rates. A win-win for everyone!
However, what if your employer’s compensation package is already consistent and competitive with the market? In this case, especially if the differences in pay and benefits are relatively small, changing employers might not make much sense. After all, going to another company means losing your seniority, starting over to build internal working relationships, answering to new bosses, having to learn and adapt to different policies and procedures, and facing a slew of other potential risks. Unless the new firm has opportunities for future career growth that are just not available with your current employer, how does changing employers benefit you?
No Chance for Promotion?
Perhaps you work for a privately held, close-knit, family-owned business. This can have its challenges. Non-family employees, who might be viewed as outsiders, often become frustrated and feel there will never be any opportunities for advancement. This situation becomes even worse should an incompetent or otherwise totally unsuited family member become the heir-apparent to ownership or leadership. In this case, considering another employer may be necessary.
However, not all family businesses represent such a bleak scenario. Some of these businesses treat their workers very well—like family—and employees like the often less-formal work environment. They can deal direct with the owner on issues and not have to always run every little decision past a corporate headquarters located in some other state. I know an individual who began working at a family-owned business as an entry-level employee. Over the years, he learned every aspect of the operation and eventually bought the company when the owner decided to retire.
Greener Grass or Just a Mirage?
When deciding whether to leave your current employer, be careful to not fall victim to the “grass is greener” syndrome. You know the story: some other company always looks like a better place to work. I know several people who thought they found a supposedly great new employer and made the move. However, once they started working at the new job, they quickly realized that not all was as it first appeared. A few of these individuals were fortunate enough to escape quickly and be rehired by their former employers. Others, not so much. They had to tough it out in an even worse work environment until another opportunity came along.
The relationship between a company and their job candidates is sort of like a first date. Everyone is on their best behavior and trying to look extra attractive, but it might not all be completely genuine. The truth? Every workplace has its issues, and the trick is to find one that has problems you can live with. If you decide to leave your employer, make sure it is for the right reasons and do some research so you know what likely awaits you at the new job.
A word of caution. When checking out a potential employer, don’t assume that just because you hear good things about one work area it necessarily holds true for the entire company. Large organizations can be like major cities, having both “good” and “bad” areas within their boundaries. I know of companies that have departments where everyone loves their job and enjoys going to work. Yet, under that same roof, there are other departments described as “hell on earth” by their staff. Try to learn about the specific area in which you will be working.
Again, have you determined the real source of your dissatisfaction? Is it where you work or what you do? If it is related to your specific department rather than the work itself or the company overall, what are your options? Is your organization large enough that perhaps you could do the same or comparable work in another department within the company? However, you may ultimately discover that it is the work itself that no longer brings satisfaction.
When discontentment with the work itself is the issue, knowing your personal career goals becomes essential. You may realize it is time for a change in your career path, but without a goal, what’s your next move? First, decide on your goals. Then, develop a plan to achieve those goals. You cannot determine whether changing employers will be necessary until you have a plan and examine several factors.
- If you have decided on a completely new career path, changing employers may or may not be necessary. For example, suppose you currently work in retail or in a restaurant as a server or cook. What if you decide you want to pursue a profession (accounting, engineering, nursing, etc.) or skilled trade (electrician, plumber, machinist, etc.)? Obviously, in a situation where the career goal is totally outside the scope of your current employer’s industry, a change will almost certainly be eventually required. However, suppose you have the same goal but currently work in a lower-level position for a large organization. The company may possibly have other departments or locations that perform this type of work, enabling you to pursue those goals without changing employers.
- Does your current employer offer any employee development programs? These might include on-the-job training, internal apprenticeships, or educational support programs enabling you to obtain whatever degree, license, or certification will be required for your new career. Many employers have very generous programs, some even offering paid time off to attend college. If your current employer offers little or nothing in this regard, changing to one that offers such programs may, out of necessity, need to be an intermediate step in your planned pathway to a new career.
- Many organizations have a culture of “promote from within” and give preferential consideration to existing employees when job vacancies are filled. You may find securing a new position with your current employer is far easier than applying as an outside candidate with another company where you have absolutely no advantage and will most likely be competing with hundreds of applicants.
- Do positions for the type of work you want to pursue fall into a “series” or “tier” system? Some jobs are structured with various levels or classifications, e.g., Analyst I, Analyst II, Analyst III, Senior Analyst, etc. Each level will have its corresponding set of minimum requirements relating to education, years of experience, type of work performed, etc. Such an approach benefits both the employer and the employees. A series system helps the employer retain its workforce by providing an internal career ladder for individuals since they don’t have to leave to find advancement. The employees benefit from the opportunity for promotion and increased pay as one moves up through the levels. The lowest or starting job in the series, often known as an entry-level or trainee position, may have little or no education or experience requirements. Another benefit: sometimes, advancement to higher levels within the job series is possible with work experience often being accepted as a substitute for a college degree. If your current job has no potential for pay or career growth, consider applying for such a position in the field you desire and look at the requirements for promotion. Such a move may even be a temporary step backward in pay. However, if eventual advancement to higher levels means significantly more pay in the future—along with the satisfaction of doing work you enjoy—this could be a solution. Does your current employer have any such entry-level positions for the field of interest, or do you need to look elsewhere?
These are a few of the factors to consider when deciding whether to change employers. Such a serious career move must be thought through deliberately and carefully, never made on impulse. Only after you have a career goal in mind and a solid plan to achieve it should you make that decision. The bottom line is fully understanding what purpose and role—if any—changing employers will play in your overall career plan.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment and share your experience or thoughts!
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