Skip to content

Should I stay or should I go?

While we know the perils of believing that the grass is greener on the other side, we also know that the times of staying with one employer for the entire length of one’s career is very much over. Today, people expect to change employers numerous times throughout their careers. In fact, it is very common to use each new job as an opportunity to obtain promotions and increases in your salary greater than the average 3 per cent annual salary increase people get for staying with the same employer.

Just a few weeks ago, the Counsel Network published the “In-House Counsel Compensation & Career Survey Report 2016” In this report, 926 in-house counsel respondents from across Canada shared information about their salary, benefits, bonuses, etc. Of specific interest to me, and especially relevant to this article, was the section called “Satisfaction with Work and Loyalty to Employer.” In this section, the report makes several interesting findings:

•    There is quite a bit of movement, internally and externally, among in-house counsel in Canada. However, approximately 46 per cent of respondents answered that they would remain in the same role over the next two-year period. That means that 54 per cent would not. 

•    More interestingly, if offered a comparable role with a higher salary, 56 per cent of in-house counsel answered that they would consider making a move. The amount of the increase in salary became an important determining factor in deciding whether or not they would make the move. Only 7 per cent stated that they would make the move for a job providing an increase of less than 10 per cent from their current salary, while 44 per cent would require an increase between 15 and 25 per cent to make a change. For 21 per cent of respondents, a salary of more than 25 per cent would be required. 

•    In considering all of the factors that motivate someone to leave their current employer, greater compensation (30 per cent), promotion (16 per cent), greater security and stability (9 per cent), and greater responsibility (9 per cent) were in the top four. Personally surprising, better cultural fit came in at a distant sixth spot at 6 per cent.

In “Killing Ourselves: Depression as an Institutional, Workplace and Professionalism Problem” [], published by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2012, it is cited that approximately 20 per cent of the entire legal profession suffers from clinically significant levels of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, or some other form of psychopathology. While the article looks predominantly at private practice, and points the finger at many causes such as billable hours, the adversarial nature of the practice, and other factors, I would wager that many of the same pressures and stressors apply to in-house counsel as well.

In my humble opinion, another major source of unhappiness, depression, stress, and dissatisfaction may arise, as shown in The Counsel Network study, from lawyers making important job changes driven solely by increase in compensation, and without giving a good thought to cultural and organizational fit. As a lawyer in in-house or private practice, you will spend as many, if not more, hours at the workplace than at home with your family. When making this trade-off, you must analyze, firstly whether the organization and the people you will be spending a significant amount of time with are a good fit for you. Secondly, you must evaluate whether the trade-off as a whole is in line with not just your career goals but also your life goals. This will make you more likely to succeed and be happy in your new position and environment.    

Ideally, when deciding to make a job change, you should take into consideration multiple factors, such as:

•    Compensation and benefits;

•    Your cultural/personal fit with the organization and its co-workers;

•    How the new job fits into your short- and long-term career objectives (with regard to role, industry, developmental opportunities, etc.);

•    The corporate brand you will be representing (you must be able to say with pride where you are working since, as a professional, you will be associated with the brand);

•    Your need for work-life balance;

•    The quality and type of work you will be doing;

•    The number of people that will be reporting to you and the level of the job within the organization (try to move up and not down with regard to these);

•    The importance of job security, stability, and/or entrepreneurial nature of the work;

•    Work location (that hour-and-a-half commute may sound like a good idea now, but as your life changes, so may your willingness to make such a commitment);

•    The personality and management style of the person or people to whom you will be reporting.

When satisfied that all of the important criteria to you are met, in addition to any other personal interests, only then should you contemplate making the move. You have worked long and hard to develop your career, you need to make sure that a misstep, for the wrong reasons, does not set your career behind. My two cents are that intending to make a move based solely on an increase in compensation is a dangerous sign that more thinking and analysis is required in the decision-making process, to take into account the various other factors that impact not only job satisfaction but also life satisfaction.

  • CEO/Certified Executive and Business Coach

    Anapaula Lagarriga
    Great article and good points to consider. May I suggest reading a book called The Dip by Seth Godwin. I work with many attorneys and I have had several of them read that book when they are making a life changing decision like this.
  • Interesting

    Nehal Parekh
    IN this competitive world, one has forgotten that ultimately a healthy and a happy state of mind is what one must strive for. As rightly said, only increase in compensation should not be the criteria for a move. the cultural fitness goes a long way to determine the health of your mind since more that half of one's life is spent at office than anywhere else.

    These points are surely helpful to take the right decision. Way to GO....!!!!!!!
  • Founder and Practice Manager

    Joe Milstone
    Balanced and well reasoned piece as always, Fernando. Two things I might hypothesize regarding at least some corporate counsel. First, career moves are too often made on the objective "should" basis - perception of what success and fulfillment mean but in other people's eyes as opposed to one's own. Second, and somewhat similarly with respect to compensation, comparisons are often drawn to similar ranking business executives in the organization or to friends in the major law firms of similar seniority. In all those cases, the target(s) can be highly elusive and only fleetingly fulfilling even if achieved. Like anything in life, truly knowing oneself and a balanced perspective - factoring in the many trade-offs inherent in those "should" alternatives - are critical for true contentment.
  • My title? The title of my comment?

    Chad Conrad
    These reminders that there is more to our professional lives than money are important. Thanks Mr. Garcia.