What Your Employer Doesn’t Want You To Know: Loyalty Doesn’t Pay

It didn’t always feel like it, but the last decade was an awesome time to be making money.

The S&P 500 delivered a total return of 275% over the ten-year period – that’s about 10.7% on an annualized basis.  Large corporations have seized on opportunities to expand and grow their earnings – hiring ever more people along the way.

And the gig economy, for all its shortcomings, has created a massive number of additional opportunities to make some extra cash on the side.

Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the unemployment rate is plumbing new depths.  Here in the UK, unemployment hasn’t been this low since 1974.  And US unemployment is well below its pre-crisis levels.

UK unemployment rate

If you haven’t changed jobs in a while, this sure feels like a good time to do it. But if you have been waiting for the good times to find a new employer, you are missing a beat.

When it comes to your career, if you aren’t always on a lookout for new opportunities, you are likely leaving money on the table.

Don’t Let The Stats Fool You

According to the BBC, UK workers change jobs every five years on average.  Our friends over in the US seem to be a bit more decisive and move jobs every four years.

The problem with stats like the ones above is that they never show the complete picture.  That is, they don’t tell you how many people found a new job and were persuaded to stay by their existing employer.

Let me tell you a little story.

About a decade ago, I came to London to join a reputable, international bank.  They treated me well (by investment banking standards anyway), promoted me regularly and compensated me fairly – or so I thought at the time.

The thought of leaving never crossed my mind.  Why would I?  I had multiple inbounds from headhunters and other banks – and I rejected them all.  Others on the team were just as loyal and we had very little churn.

I stayed there for five years.

Finally, for reasons I won’t go into here, I accepted an offer from another organization.  I walked into my group head’s office with a resignation letter.

Next thing I knew, I was experiencing some of the most eye-opening moments in my career.

There was the immediate offer to match my new offer, pound for pound.  When I rejected it, I was offered a promotion a year ahead of schedule – a rare event in the advisory business.  I declined – and was promptly offered a considerable one-off “incentive payment” on top of the match and the promotion.

The floodgates of generosity have opened so wide that you could easily drive a truck through them while blindfolded.

But the revelations didn’t end there.

Once you resign, people tend to be much more open with you.  So while I was getting ready to go on gardening leave, I found out that one of my colleagues who was on the “fast track” got there by threatening to resign two years earlier.

A few others took up the offers of “incentive payments” to stay put.  And at least one other used the threat of leaving to negotiate a lucrative overseas assignment.

So yes, hardly anyone was leaving our team.  But at one point or another, the majority of my colleagues had lined up other offers – and used the threat of leaving to get what they wanted.

All while I was putting in tons of honest effort at a back-breaking pace – and leaving money on the table along the way.

Don’t Be The Patsy

Warren Buffet has a great saying about poker:

“If you have been in the game for 30 minutes and don’t know who the patsy is, you are the patsy”

Similarly, if you have been in your job for a year and haven’t considered your options, you are the patsy – because others surely have.

Looking for a job is not high up on people’s list of enjoyable pursuits.  It’s time-consuming and inevitably requires putting yourself out there – as well as dealing with the fear of rejection.

And yet, it can pay enormous dividends when it comes to your pay and career progression.

An Irrational Fear Of Job Hopping

A lot of people worry that changing jobs too often will jeopardize their long-term career options.  If you move every couple of months, that may well be the case.

But as my former colleagues demonstrated so skilfully, looking for a job and changing jobs are two different things.  If you are any good, your employer will want you to stay.

To entice you to remain with the firm, they could well sweeten your existing deal with a better-sounding title and more money.  Now your career progression looks even better – and so your value on the open job market becomes even higher.

So if you are worried that changing jobs too often will put you at a disadvantage in the future, think about it the following way:

The only people who will deny you a job because they are “hiring for the long term” are the ones who want you stuck in your cubicle for the next ten years, too scared to move or negotiate a raise.

You don’t want those jobs anyway.

An Exception That Proves The Rule

As with everything in life, there are exceptional cases when staying with the same employer for an extended period is a good thing.

You may be in a position that aligns with your values, pays above-market compensation and gives you the flexibility to live life on your terms.  If so – well done!  Unfortunately, it’s about as likely as winning the lottery.

Alternatively, you may have a powerful champion who is supercharging your progress up the ranks.  In my experience, such setups usually come at the price of doing that person’s bidding with unquestionable work ethic and dedication.

Finally, you may be designated as one of the future leaders of the company.  In this case, you’ll have a talent development committee looking after your career progress – with mentorship and progression opportunities galore.

Expect the opportunity to move around enough roles and departments to build up a fantastic skill set – with healthy compensation to keep you from looking elsewhere.

If you are one of those people, you know how good you have it.  The rest of us will have to keep looking for a while longer.

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Banker On FIRE is a London-based M&A (mergers and acquisitions) investment banker.  I am passionate about capital markets, behavioural economics, financial independence and living the best life possible.

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6 Comments

  1. Yes I get offered more money on a fairly regularly basis to leave but in my job in order to earn x you need to bring in y and I’m not convinced with 12 month covenants that would happen. pointless earning more if you’re out of a job in 6 months. Like you say using as a negotiating tool I’ll consider in the future but don’t like to play that card too often

    Think the average pay is prob almost half what I’m on so I’m happy to stick where I am. I think the only way I’d move is if I can buy into something. I’m not brave enough to set up on my own but if I could buy into something that’s growing that’s a fab way to get real wealth imo and I’d def consider taking that risk

    • Sounds like you are already in a good place and well-compensated versus the market. The thing about threats is that they’ve got to be credible, so if you aren’t sure you would leave for another opportunity, it’s best not to play that card.

      What do you do for a living?

      • Yes it’s funny how many people say O I couldn’t doo that job too much pressure. If you do well it’s the safest place to be. I don’t think alot of people realsoe how tenuous their position is as a paye employee. I’m starting to think the self employed have the right idea

        • Ignorance is bliss. You’re right – when the chop comes, the cost centres are often the first to get hit.

          In the front office, you always have an objective view of how you’re doing / your worth on the open market.

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