Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Scratching the Itch: Knowing When to Leave a Job or to Stay

The average person now holds 12 jobs across a career, but how do you know when it's time to leave one company for another?

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It’s old news that people no longer stay with one company for their whole career. While it was commonplace to get a job and stick with it for four decades, professionals have to look out for No. 1. Without guarantees of pensions or lifelong stability, they seek greener pastures and new outlets for building their skills and finding opportunities.

Ezra Bailey | Getty Images

That doesn’t mean we can all just assume employees are joining companies for short stays and call it a day. The reasons people work with employers for a shorter time before moving on is relevant to both employers and entrepreneurs. They need to build a bench that can strengthen their companies, and the people on that bench have to benefit, too.

Short-term working relationships mean greater earning potential

Today’s average worker will now hold 11.7 jobs during the span of his career, according to the Bureau of Labor, and the number of jobs is only going to rise. In this current economy, staying in one job for too long can limit a person’s career-earning potential.

Last year, job hoppers saw a 30 percent increase in wages over those who stayed in their current role. That’s an incredible incentive to leave. If you won’t be rewarded for your hard work and commitment, what will you be rewarded for?

That’s important in an era of stagnant wage growth, increased student loan debt and limited spending power. As studies show that younger generations struggle to match the financial health of their predecessors, Pew Research indicates that Millennials’ financial well-being is “complicated.” Short stints may enable them to ditch the complications and help themselves.

Related: The Financial Advice Millennials and Gen Zers Want to Know (Infographic)

Strategic career path selection

No two career paths are the same. During any of those 12 career lives, it’s very possible that you’ll fluctuate between roles as an employee or an entrepreneur. More factors go into starting your own company than working for someone. Each role comes with its own set of stresses, risks and rewards.

To me, it’s simple math: If a company is willing to pay me more than I can earn as an entrepreneur, I’d consider becoming an employee. However, there are other factors — like time and flexibility — that make entrepreneurship an attractive career option.

If you’re currently in an employee role, this math says you should be looking for an exit every two years. Employees who stay with companies longer than two years earn 50 percent less. That’s a striking statistic and one that points to an important mindset to develop.

Related: 5 Mindset Changes You Must Make When Going From Employee to Entrepreneur

Know your worth

This mindset involves knowing what you’re worth. When you take the time to research the value of your years of accumulated knowledge, experience and skills, you may realize that your current position -- the one you’ve spent years building out of loyalty -- isn’t actually doing much to achieve greater financial rewards. What you’ve put in isn’t equivalent to what you’re getting out of it. Know how much you should charge or be paid. 

Look up information about pay and financial compensation listed for specific roles in various industries and regions through organizations like the Department of Labor. You can also get more information about specific pay rates based on titles and years of experience through career sites like Glassdoor.

Once you determine the discrepancy between what you’re making and what research says you’re worth, it may be time to recheck that math and move on. 

How employers can get you to stay

Because talent can be difficult to come by, an employer should do something that recognizes your worth. Despite it being in the HR department’s best interests to retain talent, incentives are actually skewed to get employees to leave. Employees more quickly leave “incentivizing” companies in favor of companies that help them visualize their path within the organization.

It’s hard to walk away from a clearly communicated path to success. That’s the bet that companies are making in the HR space. For example, Instructure introduced Bridge, an employee development platform that creates a visual roadmap for success. Bridge also connects employees with mentors, but the real benefit is that it allows each employee to visualize what he has to do in the next six months to get promoted to get where he ultimately wants to be in his career in the next three years.

“In the 1990s and early 2000s, customer centricity was used by corporations who wanted to effectively connect with and understand their clients,” noted Dan Goldsmith, CEO of Instructure. “We see a similar focus by companies today who want to be more employee-centric.”

In providing a clear path, it’s more challenging for startups to attract talent away. This potential illustrates the cause-and-effect process of the talent environment. Organizations with large resources have the ability to offer better packages if they close the career growth gap. Without a path, however, startups and smaller companies can draw talent away.

Related: How to Make Your Best Employees Stay at Your Company

Career processes are fluid

Career motivations change over time. At one point, you may be motivated by money and security; over time, your primary motivation may shift to focus on factors like long-term potential or a sense of community. As a result, you’ll close some doors and unexpectedly open others to new opportunities.

The takeaway: Always know how much you’re worth, and be aware of the options available to you. Don’t think that leaving entrepreneurship means you can’t go back or vice versa. The new work environment has taught us to view careers as fluid, not constant. If you work for yourself, interview with a company just to see what’s involved. If you’re an employee in a traditional job, start a side hustle so you know what the landscape looks like and can experience that control for yourself. This includes someone that goes into an office as well as a remote worker.

Embrace the ability to change and control your career journey in ways past generations never dreamed of. Today’s career heights are only limited by your failure to research and explore your options on a regular basis. You may not retire at the same company you started at, but that doesn’t mean you’re bound to be underpaid or unfulfilled.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks