How can you tell when it is time to leave your company and how much money is enough to justify the hassle?

I made this decision at two critical junctions in my career. In hindsight, I made the correct choice in each situation, but each decision was gut-wrenching at the time.

If you are presented with an offer to leave your company, start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What do I get?
  2. What do I give up?

The obvious answer is typically money as you not likely seeking opportunities to earn less. When we are recruited, our brain’s reward section lights up so bright that it is difficult to see anything else.

But ignoring the second question can be a career-altering mistake.

What Do I Have To Lose If I Leave For More Money?

On the surface, it appeared as if I had everything. In just six short years, my company promoted me four times.

The most recent promotion made me the youngest executive in my business unit at General Electric, which was the largest company in the world at the time.

But moving that quickly meant that I was paid far less than my peers who had considerably more experience. Also, I had the stress of working for a maniac, the pressure cooker culture of GE, and a career track that led to an incredibly unhealthy personal balance.

By any definition, I was ripe for the picking when a good friend gave his CFO my cell phone number. After several conversations, two trips across the country, and an aggressive recruiting process, I was faced with a decision.

Leave a company where I had established an incredible personal brand or leave for a relatively unknown company in a city I knew nothing about.

Let’s get money out of the way. The competing offer was incredibly generous. With salary and bonus potential, I would make more than triple what I was currently earning.

If you plan to leave for money, it should be enough money that your life changes. And this offer would elevate everything about my living standards.

But that wouldn’t have mattered if I was happy at work, and I wasn’t. Though my manager was cordial and supportive of me, he was ruthless with my peers. I had little respect for him, and I wasn’t alone.

I also worked an unhealthy number of hours. My executive role required that I travel 80% of the time, and when I was in my office, I rarely left before the sun came down.

The only thing keeping me at GE was the sunk cost fallacy. I stubbornly held on to the goodwill and internal network I built within the organization, losing sight of why we work in the first place.

But ultimately, there just wasn’t enough to keep me, and it was the best career decision I ever made.

Make Two Lists

The list of what you give up often far exceeds what you get. But we are easily blinded by money, especially if we feel slighted by our current pay.

To avoid letting money skew your list too much, consider the following factors:

  1. Autonomy at work
  2. Relationship with manager
  3. Stress that you bring home
  4. Hours worked
  5. The pressure to perform (Hint: It goes up with more $$)
  6. Your efficiency
  7. Strength of your internal network
  8. Upward mobility

After one paycheck, you cease to feel much happiness from money. The eight items I list above are far greater happiness drivers than any salary or bonus check could ever deliver.

If none of those items on this list improve, the increase in pay needs to be life-changing (whatever that means to you). If the raise only adds a few more fancy dinners to your life, you won’t feel any increase in satisfaction. In fact, you might feel even worse about yourself after you leave for more money.

But if 2, 3, 4, and 5 are out of whack in your current job, you have nothing to lose by trying something different (even for less pay). Life is short, and you’re rarely going to regret leaving a toxic company or manager for something different.

Be mindful of giving those eight items appropriate weight. Leaving a company that offers all of the intangibles of a great job means trading 90% of what makes you happy at work for a more expensive car payment.

What Can A Manager Learn From These Questions?

A manager can use these lists to grade your own performance with each direct report. How would each person on your team grade you?

When a person leaves a company, money is just a sweetener. They depart because they have nothing to lose, and if they can make more money, great.

Joining a new company is a risk and the eight items on that list are unknowns or at least educated guesses. But if they perceive that they are not giving anything up, the “avoidance of loss” instinct won’t kick in.

A manager’s job is to think often about what their people would give up if they went elsewhere. If a competitor called your best performer today, would they take that call and leave for more money?

And when that competitor makes a juicy offer, what glue will keep them from changing hats and playing for another team? Leaders who keep their teams together are always cognizant of the intangibles.

I wrote in great detail about the four types of managers and which type people like to work for. Are you someone people feel fortunate to work for, or are you replaceable?

Because it’s not always about the money.


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