THE BLOG
09/26/2014 12:16 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2014

The Price Tag for Employee Loyalty

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The job market is picking up and workers are taking the chance to reassess their employment situation. Even in an unfulfilling job situation, though, women are less likely to jump ship than men. Staying put comes at a financial price and, turns out, it's a substantial one.

Take a client of mine, we'll call her Jody. Jody grew up professionally with a successful Seattle startup, started in an administrative role and moved up the ranks until she eventually took the helm as Marketing Director.

When Jody came to me, it was immediately clear that she wasn't being paid like the Marketing Director she was. Her bosses would say things like, "You're a great part of the team and we'd hate to lose you. Your time is coming." But when was that time coming? She'd been loyally waiting for the better part of 10 years.

The Financial Cost of Staying True

The average pay raise for 2014 is expected to hover around a mere 2.9%. Employees who shoot for competitor offers, meanwhile, can rack up raises of 10 - 20% (or more). If every time you switch companies you have the chance to renegotiate pay, it stands to reason that those with more mobile careers have salaries that trend toward the top ends of ranges.

The problem? Women are so loyal that they often stay in jobs longer than they should.

Overcoming Unnecessary Loyalty

Jody isn't alone in feeling an obligation to her employer. Women tend to recognize the investment their employer made in them and they want to repay it. In Jody's case, she didn't realize that she had long ago repaid her boss just by doing a stellar job during the previous 10 years.

Meanwhile, employers can become complacent about raises, particularly when they don't see an immediate need. So, what can you do to help your boss recognize your worth to the company and revisit your compensation?

With Jody, I had her to go to each colleague, former boss and employee and ask them to fill out a performance assessment. Her goal was to get written confirmation of how well she functions within the team and, ultimately, how important her contributions are to the company.

What About My Employee Benefits?

Even so, Jody was hesitant about approaching her bosses. She had great employee benefits like health insurance, a 401(k) match and valuable employee stock options. She'd been with the startup almost from the beginning so she had a larger portfolio of stock options than many of her peers. "Some people don't have it as good as me," she told me, "because I've been here so long."

What Jody didn't realize is that different compensation structures work for different purposes. Salary is awarded in exchange for doing a proficient job. Stock options, on the other hand, are intended to reward employee loyalty. She'd been loyal to the company and had thus been rewarded fairly. She'd also performed her work functions proficiently and her boss had a separate financial obligation to that.

What If They Still Won't Budge on Salary?

Recruitment and training costs for a high level position can top $20,000 - $30,000. If Jody isn't able to convince her boss she was worth more to the company than her replacement cost, I suggested she start exploring other job options. If your employer doesn't recognize your market value, I told her, it's time to find someone else who will.