Citing money can be the best excuse for leaving an employer, even if it is untrue. One survey blamed voluntary turnover on income. But when an employment agency surveys financial types on why people leave their jobs, it should come as no surprise that they chose money as the principal motivation for quitting. Of course! These are groups who obsess about money.
Every pay survey published by employment agencies tends to yield excessively high numbers, because it suits their vested interests. The commissions of employment recruiters are based on the size of the pay offers accepted. Reports of high survey rates or high placement salaries can create a self-fulfilling prophesy that convinces their clients to authorize higher starting pay. That raises their commissions while permitting them to fill openings more swiftly because the exaggerated offer rates are far more attractive to candidates than mere actual average or normal median pay amounts. Even the hiring managers can benefit by “overpaying” new hires, because the inflated salaries to new folks increase the size of the payroll they control, thus raising their value, while simultaneously creating internal pay compression that justifies further salary adjustments to maintain internal equity and to further raise their pay, too.
Financial executives are trained to see everything in terms of costs, so they are apt to attribute job abandonment to inadequate pay. Their entire professional focus is financial, so they are unlikely to suspect that workers would leave for other reasons. Accountants and CFOs think money is behind everything. If it can be fixed with cash, it is not a problem but merely an expense item… their precise area of expertise.
In reality, EVERYone tends to quit for a higher-paying job, but they don't start looking for that better pay until they give up on their boss or the company. However, pointing to wages as the excuse for leaving is socially acceptable. Claiming that the new job pays more is a wonderful excuse. It is usually accurate and it allows you to remain non-confrontational and inoffensive in your “regretful” resignation message. Nothing wrong with wanting a better income, everyone will approvingly agree. The alternative -- telling the full truth about how you only started looking because of your rotten supervisor or unethical organization or dead-end career environment -- might cost you a good reference forever. Why take an unnecessary risk?
When disgusted workers abandon a bad situation, they rarely want to endanger their entire working future by antagonizing the very people who will be asked to endorse their qualifications in the future. It just isn’t worth it. Besides, that new position generally does offer a higher income… potentially, someday, if not actually immediately. And no one can criticize you for seeking better wages. Indeed, citing “better pay” pleases the people you leave behind. It plays right into the hands of managers who are happy to use your exit interview comments to justify the obvious need for higher pay for themselves and their subordinates. Dispensing a bigger payroll pays off in more status and greater compensation for the executives, too, most of the time, so they also smile at the ripple effect of your departure “for more money.”
If management believes that story and makes a counteroffer, it may be rejected; because money is not always the solution to unhappiness at work... it is only the most expensive option. No amount of cash will make up for the problems that caused the decision to leave in the first place. Even if a counteroffer is accepted, the root causes of the original dissatisfaction still remain. High wages and fat salaries may retain otherwise disengaged workers for a while, but they still will leave eventually (mentally/emotionally if not physically) if non-cash motivations are not satisfied.
What have your experiences been in such situations?
E. James (Jim) Brennan was Senior Associate of ERI Economic Research Institute, the premier publisher of interactive pay and living-cost surveys. After over 40 years in HR corporate and consulting roles throughout the U.S. and Canada, he’s pretty much been there done that (articles, books, speeches, seminars, radio/TV, advisory posts, in-trial expert witness stuff, etc.), serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review and will express his opinion on almost anything.
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