How to decide if a stagnant salary is reason enough to leave your job

Take a look at your career forecast and see if you’ll ever make it rain.

How to decide if a stagnant salary is reason enough to leave your job

It could be time to start looking for a higher-paying job.

You know the drill: You work hard, get noticed and are rewarded with a big, fat raise on an annual basis. That’s how it goes, right? So what's with this wage stagnation holding you down?

Womp womp.

Enter reality. You work hard—as in really hard, as in holding-a-sandwich-in-your-left-hand-as-you-type-with-your-right-hand-during-lunchtime hard. And even so, when annual review time rolls around, you only receive the customary (read: small) annual salary increase—if you get a raise at all.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. According to poll results from a Monster global survey, 18% of respondents have never received a raise (!) and slightly more than 26% of pollsters haven’t received a raise in over one year. The reason likely has less to do with employee performances than with employers themselves. According to a WorldatWork report, salary increase budgets at U.S. companies are slow to grow overall, with the average increase for this year expected to come in at 3.2%.

Maybe it’s time to make a move to a better employer and more lucrative salary. If you recognize one or more of the following scenarios, it’s time to start looking for a job.

You’re paid less than your peers who work at other employers

You can combat wage stagnation by always knowing what you’re worth and facing reality. Go ahead, do some digging. Talk with your peers you feel comfortable discussing money with to find out what they are earning at other companies; ask mentors what they think you should be making. Go to Monster's salary guide, look up your job title in your local market, and compare what you’re earning to the median for your occupation. Are you earning 15–20% less than the median? Time to move on. End of story.

You haven’t had a raise in over 18 months

Technically, two years could be considered the maximum time you should expect between raises, but don’t allow it to go that long. If you wait to start your job search until 24 months have passed, you may not be in a new job until you’re going on a third year of wage stagnation.

So as you reach the 18-month point, it’s time to have a conversation with your boss about a salary bump. Perhaps your boss told you the company has had a rough 12 months and as a result, salaries were flat. Now’s your chance to find out if the same will be true the next time around.

Ask this question: “Based on my performance this past year, what does my raise potentially look like going into salary review this year?” If your boss actually has the information, hopefully he or she will tell you the truth—or at least give you a glimpse of what you can expect, even if he or she isn’t aware of specific budgets. This will give you an idea of where your compensation stands and also show your boss you mean business.

If your boss shares the same information and seems uncertain of the future, it’s a sign you should start circulating your resume.

This conversation may feel awkward, but the more you talk about compensation with your boss, the stronger you’ll be at negotiating your pay for your next job.

Beyond asking your boss, there are a few telltale signs your company won’t be giving you a raise. When they report low earnings and slow growth, that’s certainly a sign. Another red flag pertains to a hiring freeze. When budgets are frozen, there’s no emphasis on spending.

You don’t see promotion potential in your 12-month future

Even in an environment that’s somewhat stagnant, there could be significant growth potential for you if you’re on track to a promotion. A jump up in title often comes with a raise that could get you back up ahead of your peers. Besides, it could put you in better position to command a higher title job outside the company, and with better pay, sooner.

On the other hand, if your company hasn’t promoted from within in a while and your bosses don’t seem to be priming you for new job responsibilities, a promotion or raise is doubtful.   

While it may feel bleak to realize you’re stuck in a salary rut, try to recognize a closed door as an opportunity to open a new one: Start searching for a new job where you can negotiate a higher base pay. Could you use some help with that? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Yes, job searching can be a lot of work, but it’ll be worth the effort when you finally see your paycheck grow. 

Monster’s career expert Vicki Salemi has more than 15 years of experience in corporate recruiting and HR and is the author of Big Career in the Big City. Follow her on Twitter at @vickisalemi