Forty or fifty years ago, a job at a large corporation was the ticket to a good life–emphasis on “life.” Engineering jobs were coveted to the point that practically no one even considered leaving them. And thanks to collective bargaining and defined-benefit pension plans, maybe there really wasn’t a need to even consider a new assignment.
Nowadays, this notion of being loyal to your employer (so that they can take care of you and your family) seems quaint. Maybe it’s the death of unions, maybe it’s because of outsourcing, or maybe it’s just the recognition that taking care of employees costs money, but regardless of the reasons, jobs at your local, friendly MegaCorp are now viewed from both sides as a temporary symbiosis. If an employee gets a better offer, he or she is out the door (barring a more attractive counteroffer). If an employer falls on hard times, current and former employees face cutbacks.
The bottom line is that, in this modern world, you need to always consider the option of leaving your current employer. The following pages cover the pros and cons of leaving, to help you choose wisely.
Benefits of finding a new employer
Why leave? A few possible reasons are explored below.
Job hopping for fun and profit (mostly profit)
Large employers like to retain employees because it reduces cost. One aspect of this is that there is no training required to keep an already competent employee (assuming his or her job description is held constant). The other, darker side of retention is that it is a way to restrict the growth of employee salaries. Once taboo, employees are anecdotally becoming more willing to share salary information with their peers. This is terrible for employers because word will spread quickly that that “new” hire who left a few years ago and just came crawling back was able to negotiate a huge pay bump, leaving his or her more loyal peers in the dust. The flip side of this is that, if you’re being even remotely underpaid (and often, even if not), you can likely boost your salary by joining a competitor and finding a new workplace. Just ask any Millennial.
Job hopping for fun
Now that you’ve been working in your field for a while, you likely have a better idea of what aspects of your job you enjoy and which aspects you’d rather avoid entirely. Reading through a stream of fresh job openings may help you decide if your ideal job is realistic or not. If you find a good match, congratulations! Apply for it, and you’re on your way to job nirvana (yes, that was hyperbole). Irrespective of job satisfaction, working at another employer will broaden your perspective (on your chosen field) and allow you to see how other (sometimes better) companies operate. Perhaps most importantly, job descriptions and requirements will sharpen your sense for what skills are in vogue for your field. If you don’t want to leave your employer just yet, you should at least maneuver your way into picking up these now-known-to-be desirable skills to aid future job hunts and salary negotiations.
In how many areas are you unwittingly a subject matter expert at your workplace? Maybe you’re “good with computers” and end up spending time helping luddite peers “fix their internet.” Maybe you proofread important emails. Maybe you’re stuck with some legacy cruft that no one wants to learn (and you’d like to unlearn). Now is your chance to jettison years of accumulated workplace baggage. This shouldn’t be the primary reason to leave an employer, but it certainly is enticing.
Job hopping and enlightenment
Just the fact that you’re even considering leaving your employer automatically means that you are taking your life and career seriously. Although coasting through life can be less stressful, there’s a cliché that says that you don’t regret the things you did, you regret the things you didn’t do. Objectively judging yourself and your career and charting a path into the future is a valuable exercise that can dramatically improve your sense of control and self-worth. Even if you end up staying with your employer, you’ll likely end up more content and motivated than when you started. I won’t go so far as to recommend that employers encourage their current employees to consider leaving (although Amazon apparently does exactly that sometimes), but careful introspection can sometimes reinforce an employee’s commitment to his or her employer and increase job satisfaction.
Benefits of sticking with your current employer
Given all of the reasons above, it’s a no-brainer, right? You need a new employer! Well, maybe. Here are some reasons you should stick around a bit longer.
No need to “prove yourself”
Joining a new team is always a little painful; a new company even more so. Depending on the dynamics of your office, it can even be a nightmare. In all likelihood, your new coworkers probably don’t know how awesome you are, and some of them might even expect you to be just terrible. Many workplaces profess to be meritocracies, where impact is rewarded accordingly, but this is sometimes just a thinly veiled method of pitting employees against each other in their quest to claim a slice of a fixed size pie of rewards. Ever work late trying to show that you’re a team player who can get stuff done? Be prepared to remind (or inform) folks of this anew every time you start a new job.
No need to learn new systems
Although seemingly minor, questions as simple as “how do I report vacation time?” or “when are most people at the office?” will have to be answered when you start at a new job. You’ll even have to follow misleading wall-mounted signs on your quest to find the bathroom for the first time. These are certainly not insurmountable challenges for someone with all his or her faculties, but a constant barrage of small problems can be overwhelming and raise your base level of stress. Maybe the signs to the bathroom at your current job are terrible, but at least you probably don’t need them anymore.
Seniority and stock grants
While seniority is becoming less important in modern offices, it is likely that the location of your desk (and its potential proximity to non-fluorescent light) and your annual allotment of vacation are tied to the date at which MegaCorp welcomed you into its good graces. If you’re lucky, your employer may have a practice of rewarding employees with grants of stock (or, even better, cash) that vest over several years. While vacation and promised rewards can sometimes be negotiated out of a prospective employer, there is a risk that you could lose money; worse, you could even lose the most important quantity–free time (in the form of extra vacation days)–by jumping ship.
Keeping roots in the ground, where they belong
Depending on your current location, field of interest, and job prospects, you might be able to land a job at a different employer that is in your current geographical area (ideally even with a shorter commute). But it’s also possible that you’ll have to pack your bags and relocate to find either the best job or the best pay. For nomadic twenty-somethings, this may not be a problem, but if you’ve got family and friends in the area, having to uproot yourself can be even more stressful than starting a new job. Make sure you’re putting life satisfaction and associated social connections before career and the almighty dollar.
Let’s say you did decide to pack your bags, sell your house (or break your lease), and move for your dream job. What if the dream job turns out to be a sham? What if the new locale doesn’t match your desired lifestyle? What if it gets really, really hot in the summer? It’s easy to fall prey to “the grass is always greener” syndrome when researching new, exciting possibilities. Just keep in mind that job postings are actually marketing materials, trying to sell you on the job. And most of the information you’ve read about the new city was probably written by tourists, travel writers, or people who have only resided in the location for a short while. It pays to do your due diligence when considering a major move. If possible, visit the location on a “stealth vacation” to see how locals really live. Try to contact employees (or even prospective teammates) and ask them about how things really are. It might be difficult or awkward to broach these subjects, but your future self will thank you.
Putting it all together
The above points, while helpful, are certainly not comprehensive. Maybe some aspects matter to your more (e.g. proximity to family) or less (e.g. having to find a new bathroom). The important point is to think through the pros and cons and make an informed choice. And once you’ve made your choice, don’t dwell on foregone options.
A note on leverage
Although extreme, and not to be wielded lightly, quitting is often the most powerful force in the workplace. I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard from acquaintances where they put forth a reasonable request to management, had it promptly denied (usually with extreme prejudice), only to have that stance immediately reversed after flashing a written notice of resignation. My relevant personal anecdote dates back to when I was looking for the job I currently hold. I had gotten offers from two employers. Although both employers had offices in my home state, the first employer informed me that they weren’t hiring here in my old stomping grounds. When I told this employer that I was going to take their adversary’s offer since it was in my preferred location, suddenly the first employer’s tune changed. Maybe they could find something in my area. It all goes back to leverage. If you’re a current employee, you have more leverage than you think. Use it wisely.