Mailbag: Changing Industries!

Dear Rick,
I work for a small family owned business in Illinois and have successfully obtained a pay raise using your program although it was not as much as I had hoped. I like my job and employer but I feel like the company is not keeping pace with the changes in the industry. Many of the employees have been with the company for a long time and the family atmosphere is both comforting and stifling to me. The possibility for future advancement concerns me as a son of the owner is a candidate for the position that I aspire to. My question is should I start looking for a position with a different company or stay where I am especially since I just received a pay raise.
In writing the Salary Step Up I knew that users of the system would discover information that would lead them to wrestle with decisions like yours. I am sure you read the advice in the Salary Step Up Series that discussed some of the tactics and strategies associated with leaving one job and seeking another so I will not repeat that advice here. I want to address a few of the concerns that you have expressed but keep in mind that no one will be able to make the final decision better than you.
First the issue of small family company vs larger company. In my experience the small company that is run by a family member at the head of the company and filled with relatives can offer some obvious disadvantages for the non-family member to advance especially if a competent family member is available to fill the position. This is so difficult to overcome that you have to have some definite commitments from the owner that you will be advanced into the position or you should view that as an indicator of hitting the ceiling at that company and know that it is time to move on.
You mention that the company is not keeping pace with the industry. That could be reason enough to find a more vibrant company to practice your craft. Small companies are great places to work for many reasons. One of my favorite reasons is due to the small companies ability to move quickly and not become sluggish and rigid. The worst thing that a small company can do is take on those big company attitudes and lose the advantage of being small and nimble. When this happens you have a dying company although it may hang on for decades it is eroding and it will fail eventually. Consider the attitude of the company and what will happen in the event of leadership change, market shifts and competition. You must concern yourself with your employers longevity if you are considering staying long term with the company.
You mentioned that you received a pay raise but not in the amount you had hoped for. This indicates two things to me. First if your request was reasonable the lack of pay could be an indicator of the companies lack of prosperity. If you are doing your part and the rest of the company is preforming well, then you need to ask yourself if the company profits are going to benefit the owner or others at the expense of you and others in the company. I am no socialist but I do not believe that a good boss or company owner should pay themselves extravagantly and ask the employes to settle for less than they reasonable deserve. The other financial issue could be that the company is in debt or some other financial strain that has made your full pay raise impossible at this time. If that is the case get a commitment from your boss that it will increase as soon as the tough times have passed. Make sure that is in writing. If they are unwilling to make this commitment than the reason is probably more in line with my first statement.
I worked for a family company for my first job, in fact it was my dad’s company. So I understand the comfort that you can experience in a work environment that has a family vibe. For me I finally left when the ability to grow was not available at the company.  Your comfort can be deceiving you and leading you to think that the feeling of comfort translates into job security or continued advancement. I can tell you that nepotism is alive and well in family business and that won’t change any time soon. Your boss may be a rational business person but they probably intent to pass the company on to their heir. If the position you want to advance to is desired by a family member you will have a difficult if not impossible task to obtain it even if you are the better qualified.
Never let a recent pay raise or bonus be the only deciding factor to continuing your employment unless you agreed to that as part of your compensation. If you do decide to leave your boss may try to make you fell disloyal for leaving but that is their opinion and it should have nothing to do with your logical business decision to leave. Be conscious of the effects your departure will cause and soften them if possible without harming your career. You need to leave when it is best for you.
The biggest indicator to me in your question is that you are even asking it to begin with. I bet that you know in your heart what you should do and you are just looking for justification and a little hand-holding. I have been in your position in that regard too. I have often looked for support for my decisions beyond myself, and that is normal for anyone to do. You need to carefully review your research and examine your longterm goals to see if your feeling to leave is in line with the facts and your desires. If you are married I would also recommend discussing this with your spouse. You should look for your comfort with your family first. I bet you will write to me and tell me that you made the move but that needs to be decided by you and not me. I may never meet you in person but I hope you know that I support you in your decision and rational decision to advance your career.
Also, please write again with any questions or updates on your situation.

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