Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing: your mission as an employee is first and foremost to maximize profits for one person – you! That means getting the most possible revenue and subtracting the least possible expense.
When considering changing jobs, I don’t always reckon risk and reward the same way headhunters do. I may or may not jump for a higher paycheck myself. This depends on a complex set of factors including the reputation and solvency of the employer, the type of work, the time commitment and how much fun I think it would be to work there. I want good chemistry more than anyone in this discussion because I have the most to lose.
I do not believe in making a choice between having fun at work and making money. I have at times chosen money over fun because I have found it easier to make the workplace fun than to get big pay increases. You may choose differently based on your on scale of values. The important thing is to understand how money fits into what motivates you and act accordingly. It is worthwhile to apply for sales jobs at insurance companies to go through their personality profiles that will help you with this for free. If you have been through outplacement you may also have been able to benefit from this type of service. In any event, you are responsible for your happiness. Your employer is only responsible for paying you.
If you find that you are being paid less than you are worth for a job you are doing you need to take action to get more. You can go to your employer and ask for it, but I don’t recommend asking for a raise or anything else. I recommend demanding an increase or leaving. It is better to do this with an offer in hand, but you might choose to do it even if you haven’t found another job. The keys to getting what you ask for are:
- Make sure you know and they know that you mean it. Never bluff.
- Make sure you and your employer know that what you require is reasonable – but expect to be paid what you are worth as defined by what you can currently expect to get paid elsewhere.
If your current compensation is competitive and you still want to leave that means that money isn’t motivating you as much as other things or you just can’t make enough in your current line of work. Either way you need to evaluate your goals to see if they conform to reality. Try to get impartial help with this. Any trusted advisor can help – a college professor, a rabbi or whomever. It is good to discuss career goals with family but you must also get confirmation and challenge from others who know you but aren’t materially invested in the outcome. Your spouse can be your greatest help or your greatest hindrance. Realize that he/she may not know what’s best for you but can sure make life hell if they don’t support the decision you come to. Sell them and don’t tell them. If you are sure about your decision and they don’t agree consider the possibility that work is not the issue. You may have other life priorities to work out.
When you know you are in the wrong line of work, the work is not worth the aggravation or it threatens your family, you may be better off taking less money. However, don’t assume you have to take less until you know you must because this step is hard to reverse.
When you are talking with prospective employers in different geographic regions you need to be mindful of a game they play that I call locational arbitrage. Locational arbitrage is when an employer tries to get you to take a pay cut because the region has a lower cost of living or when they fail to pay you what they would have to if you weren’t coming from a region with a lower cost base. Either way, they are counting on you not knowing what they know, namely the actual differences in employment cost base AND real cost of living between their region and yours. It is up to you to be informed.
One easy way to know how close they are to reality is by comparing the median home price where you live and in the target community. Don’t forget, cost of living is mightily impacted by state and local taxes, including property taxes. Keep in mind that you may have to accept a very different commute to find comparable value and you need to decide if that is worth it as a lifestyle issue. Find out in interviews where people live who are at the same level as the incumbent and look up home values by zip code in their areas on real estate websites such as Realtor.com. Also find out how long it takes them to get to work and what it costs to ride mass transit or pay tolls, operate and park a car and insure it. This information can be obtained from city mass transit websites, insurance companies and entertainment venues or parking garage chains.
Another aspect of locational arbitrage is the reduction of perks symptomatic of the benefits erosion that has been going on for decades. Keep in mind that perks and lavish pay have only disappeared for the rank & file and not for executives whose pay is going up so much that it creates the illusion that the downturn ended.
You can ask for anything before you are hired or when they tell you they can’t give you a raise but want you to stay anyway. Here are some possibilities:
- Paid parking or an assigned space.
- Training and tuition reimbursement
- Vacation and unpaid leave
- Health club membership
- Don’t relocate – just have them pay for a long distance commute. This is hard on families but you might want to give them a probationary period (they are putting you on one as a new hire, why not turn it around).
- Sell them on setting up an office locally and not moving you to headquarters.
What you don’t want to do is uproot your family and move to a “low cost” place and then find yourself without a job. For most people, given employment volatility, relocation is an unacceptable risk. If they say you won’t advance unless you move you will: leave the company, stop out or sacrifice your family. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If they are acquired after you relocate and the acquirer closes the facility they moved you to the company that you sacrificed for will do precisely nothing for you. That’s when it is convenient for them to use a last hired first fired rule. Assume that seniority only matters as a way to get rid of people not promote them. Congratulations, you have now been rewarded for grabbing the brass ring by being marooned in a place where you don’t know anybody and will have difficulty getting rehired. This is why many people are now passing on relocation opportunities even when they are out of work. Being migrant workers is not healthy for families as Steinbeck illustrated in The Grapes of Wrath.
Employers used to offer significant relocation benefits to draw talent from outside their areas. These included buying your old house, paying points on your new mortgage that they would also provide at an attractive rate and providing paid training and placement for your trailing spouse, not to mention paying the entire cost of the move itself. Gradually these fat benefits gave way to a cash bonus to help defray moving costs and now they mostly don’t even offer that. And they wonder why they can’t fill positions with top talent. One other thing, if they do help pay for relocation they may stipulate that if you leave within a certain window of being hired you have to pay them back. Ouch.
With relocation as with other issues, think through what is important based on your own scale of value and what will make you whole. Consider your own definitions of risk and reward. Here are points to consider about locations:
- After adjusting for regional differences in home values, taxes and pay scales, middle management New Yorkers and Angelinos commute twice as long to live in the same 2,400 square foot house they can have in Richmond, VA or Charlotte, NC.
- New Jersey has thousands of companies that can rehire you if you get laid off. Bentonville, AR has one, and they would have been who just fired you.
- In Marin County, CA they pay ludicrous taxes but they also have good schools and low crime.
- Watch out for areas that are growing very rapidly. This probably means infrastructure, schools and police can’t keep up. You might leave a major metro for a secondary city only to be shocked at how bad the traffic is, or that the nearest hospital is thirty minutes away.
- The big city might have jobs at high pay but also a high cost of living and, what may be worse, you may be surrounded by people who don’t share your values and on whom you may not rely in a pinch. Where you live depends to a great extent on how you want to live and with whom you want to associate.
Generally, you are better off going to or staying in places that have large and diverse job bases and relatively stable rates of population growth. This information is easily obtained from Department of the Census (at census.gov). On the other hand, you may perceive risk as living in a place that makes being a free person increasingly impossible. In that case, vote with your feet anyway. Nowadays it is more than possible to live anywhere and have revenue streams that will sustain you.
As mentioned, if you take a pay cut you may never make it up. This is true no matter what the reason. If you move to another location where you get “arbed” down and then you want to come back you may be amazed to find that what they now want to pay won’t buy the house you used to own. This is why you have to do your homework and then confront them with facts. If they say you don’t need as much income in Dallas as New York because there is no state income tax you need to know that property tax makes up the difference depending on locale and that private schools are more expensive relative to income because the market demands it, public education being perceived as a poorer deal there. If they say you don’t need that much more in New York than Dallas you need to be prepared to say you do if you want to have a comparable quality of life because a home in a comparable community with a comparable commute costs three times what your Dallas home is worth. If they say there are plenty of jobs here because of growth you say, yeah and plenty of crime too.
I am a big believer in working remotely. You can now live where you want to and make a nice income without having to deal with high cost and congestion and living in a place where you feel out of place or would rather not raise your kids. Realize that there are trade-offs but you don’t have to believe that this means that you will necessarily have to accept less money or that you won’t be able to keep more of what you earn.
In case you haven’t gotten the message by now, you should assume until proven otherwise that all employers are operating using P.T. Barnum’s three rules of the circus, namely:
- Never give a sucker an even break.
- There’s a sucker born every minute.
- Never wise up a chump.
They are out to fleece you. They can do it legally and, they think, ethically. Don’t be a chump.
The individual people who work for a company are just folks. But, the company as an entity has no choice but to behave as though they were voracious predators and you are the prey. You must therefore take measures to enhance your survival chances by making you hard to catch and kill and if possible turning the hunter into the hunted. Never forget this as you drive to increase your profit from the enterprise.
To maximize your income you need merit increases, promotions and bonuses.
Getting merit pay increases means you did enough right so that you get a share of whatever annual pittance they dole out. If they are giving 4% on average and you get 0% you had better be looking for a job. The amount doesn’t matter but they have told you they think you are expendable. If you get the average that’s OK. If won’t hurt you and most of the people who got more didn’t get much more. If they aren’t giving out merit pay you didn’t get hurt.
Promotions are rare but you need them. You can get promoted in three basic ways:
- Be recognized as a revenue producer. These are skilled sales people and product developers.
- Be recognized as someone who promotes others. These are skilled managers.
- Be a ruthless climber who is good at politics. These are people don’t add value but who win anyway.
All three methods work. You need to be at least competent at all three but decide where your strengths are and act accordingly. Just keep in mind that the higher you go the more you will stand out and the bigger a target you are. What goes around comes around.
Revenue producers are not only the top sales people. They are also the ones who successfully commercialize ideas and communicate them to the marketplace. There are many skills and types of creativity that can lead to this kind of recognition.
Great managers and leaders are so valuable because they are rare. Think about how many great bosses, teachers or coaches you have had. If you are like most people you can count them on one hand. If you can be one of these you will never have to worry about finding a job or maximizing earnings, no matter what trade or profession you are in.