On the Clock

If You Want to Earn More, Should You Quit?

New data shows wage growth for job switchers is outpacing those who stay put.

When it comes to raises, it’s been pretty much the same story for almost two years: the economy is doing well, companies are profitable and getting great tax breaks, and yet nobody’s getting raises

But new data suggests some people are: apparently, they’re the ones who leave their job.

Median wage growth for people who jumped to new positions ticked up to 4.6% in January from a year earlier—the fastest pace since 2007, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. That’s compared to 3.4% median wage growth for people who stayed in their current jobs. 

Real-wage salaries, adjusted for inflation, are expected to grow only an average of 1% this year.

Indeed, raises this year are expected to be minimal. Real-wage salaries, adjusted for inflation, are expected to grow only an average of 1% this year, down from the 1.5% prediction in 2018, according to a Korn Ferry salary forecast. “On average, employees are not seeing the same real pay growth they did even one year ago,” says Bob Wesselkamper, Korn Ferry’s global head of rewards and benefits solutions.

What’s more, those who say sayonara after only a year or two on the job aren’t stamped with a scarlet letter the way they may have been a decade ago. The average job tenure is now 4.2 years, down from 4.6 years just five years ago, and continues a long-term decline. But before you start submitting resumes everywhere, consider these points.

Examine your engagement and learning potential.

While more money can entice many people, studies show professionals are happier when a job is engaging—or allows you to express your natural talents and tendencies. “Even if the job pays well, you may feel dissatisfied if your innate talents aren’t being engaged,” says Jennice Vilhauer, manager for Korn Ferry’s Search Assessment practice. If you’re pretty satisfied where you are, then that extra money really isn’t going to make you happier when you weigh it against the unknowns that come with a new job: a new company culture, a new boss, and new colleagues. 

What’s more, the best way to actually earn more money, says Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison, is to learn more. You must constantly upgrade your skills or learn new ones to stay relevant. “In every job, I’ve sought to learn all I could and challenge myself to know something that no one else (or few others) knew,” he says.

Build your case at your current company.

If you’re engaged at work, but still feel you aren’t paid enough, set up a meeting to discuss your wages with your boss. But before you even send the calendar invite, do your homework on market rates for your position and skill set. (Feel free to crib our data point above, for macro trends.) Of course, one news story with a touch point on the economy isn’t going to get you a raise. But showing how you’ve brought value to the company, coupled with solid numbers on what competitors would pay, could help your cause.

Evaluate your life goals.

We all have a sense of who we are in life and who we want to be. And when we’re moving in the direction of where we want to go, that can create a sense of satisfaction and well-being—even if, on the surface, it seems difficult. “If you’re a partner in a law firm and have to work long hours so you can put your three children through college, you may feel satisfied knowing your job is helping you achieve your personal goals,” Vilhauer says. The point is to remember that job satisfaction is closely tied to whether you perceive the job as allowing you to become more of who you want to be. So, when you think about switching jobs, think about more than just the paycheck.

take our career resiliency quiz
take our career resiliency quiz