If You Want a Higher Paying Job, the Time to Quit is Now

Ever have the feeling that, when it comes to money, your employer just doesn’t get it? You may be right.

Consider a couple of recent studies from staffing firm Robert Half, based on surveys of 2,800 U.S. employees. One, from late August, said that 73% of workers are researching their current jobs online and checking out their market value, up from 54% two years ago. Alas, many aren’t happy with what they’re finding out. Almost half (46%) believe they’re underpaid. Perhaps not surprisingly, a separate report found that 43% of surveyed employees plan to look for a new job in the next 12 months. The top reason: higher pay.

You might think that, with most companies these days worried about attracting and keeping talent, employers would start loosening the pursestrings in a big way. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. The same report that said 43% of workers that are eyeing the exits also asked senior managers what retention strategies their companies were using. “Enhancing compensation” came in at number four on the list. The three that outrank pay: better communication with employees (46%), improving employee-recognition programs (41%), and more training and development (also 41%).

Those things are great, of course, but you can’t pay your bills with them. “In a stronger economy, top performers have options,” notes Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half. “They’re more likely to stay put if they feel they’re getting paid fairly.”

So, assuming the economy stays strong and talent shortages persist, how do companies’ 2020 salary budgets look? The short answer: a lot like this year’s. Annual raises for salaried employees will stay at their current rate of 3.1%, according to 858 firms polled by compensation consulting giant Willis Towers Watson.

That’s not to say, however, that you can’t make more money next year by sticking around in your current position and doing a stellar job at it. For one thing, the study notes that “star performers” do pretty well. Top-rated employees this year have gotten raises averaging 4.6%, 70% higher than “average” workers, and that is expected to continue in 2020. Bonuses for special projects and one-off achievements will go up a little, too, from 5.3% of salary in 2019 to 5.9% next year.

Likewise, 1,300 large and mid-sized employers told compensation consultants Mercer, in another recent survey, that only 21% plan to increase raises across the board, and most people will earn just 3% more in 2020 than this year. About 90% of companies “continue to differentiate base pay by performance,” the study says, adding that in 2019, star talent has gotten 1.6 times the pay increase of “average” performers.

Not a star performer at your company? Short of quitting your job, or taking on a side hustle to boost your income, getting a sizable bump in pay anytime soon will take some planning. If you’ve researched your market value online and found that you’re worth more than your paycheck reflects, have a calm, reasonable conversation with your boss. (It’s usually smart to practice with a trusted friend or mentor first.) Find out if there is anything you can do —a special project, a “stretch” assignment, maybe even a transfer to a different part of the company— to earn more. Then do it.

Let’s say, on other hand, that those opportunities just aren’t there. If you decide to go after more money in a new job elsewhere, don’t put it off: almost 60% of the people in Robert Half’s research believe that “a stronger economy has helped their earning potential,” and there’s undoubtedly some truth in that. With the next recession still a cloud on the horizon, if you’re intent on finding a better-paying gig, now is the time.

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—How to tell if your job is a stepping stone to a career
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