I've been at my company for a while and was recently told that I have reached the salary cap for my position. What are my options for advancement and how can I stay motivated?

Industry Matters Newsletter
Todd Alam, Department of Organic Materials Science, Sandia National Laboratories
Todd Alam, Department of Organic Materials Science, Sandia National Laboratories

Your options for addressing the salary cap at your company depends on your specific career situation as well your future career goals and aspirations.

Take a moment to seriously reflect on what you want to do in the future as a chemist. If you are excited and motivated by the type of work you are presently doing at your current company, carefully look around for additional responsibilities, and enthusiastically pursue these. Possibilities include shifting to new research projects or taking the opportunity to learn emerging techniques and processes which will help maintain that mental motivation. Sometimes these opportunities may require an internal transfer within your organization or changing and expanding your research focus. 

If salary compensation is a major concern, then explore promotion options, such as taking on a larger leadership role, including new employee mentoring, team leads, or management. This effort can lead to your company realizing your expertise and experience is “priceless” and should be compensated for.

Reflect and critically evaluate your performance level. Ask yourself if your salary is commensurate with your individual effort and how does it compare to other companies? If a salary increase remains your primary goal, it may be time to seek an offer for employment elsewhere (even though this can be risky in the current uncertain pandemic job market). Having an offer in hand from another employer often gives one the best possible leverage to obtain a higher salary from their current employer.

At some stage in your career you may simply have reached your limiting salary. This is especially true of chemists in the later stages of their careers, who may need to balance advancement against future retirement and pension. One of my colleagues offered this opinion: “At some stage one may have to accept that a salary cap has been reached. Take it as being part of the professional’s progression, one day there is simply a limit to ‘more and more and better and better’ in many respects, not just pay.”

If salary is not your major goal, focus on the parts of your career that still excite you. For example, I have bypassed advancement via management because I love being in the laboratory doing hands-on chemistry. Motivation can also come from working on interesting projects, interactions with colleagues, and being appreciated by fellow coworkers. Concentrate on accomplishments such as patents, journal articles, professional society involvement, etc. Sometimes motivation must come from within oneself.

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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