What is a lateral move?

Lateral moves are a career choice where an employee leaves their current role for another role with a similar salary, title, or seniority. Lateral moves can be made between two companies, within the same company or even the same department.

Understanding lateral moves

Lateral moves describe the process of an employee moving from their current position to one that is similar in salary, title, or seniority. 

Whilst a lateral move is not a promotion, it can be beneficial for those who want to:

  • Increase the depth or breadth of their skill set. 
  • Follow their passions and do meaningful work.
  • Develop more resilience. Many employees find lateral moves to be an effective way to challenge themselves and keep things interesting.
  • Improve work-life integration. 
  • Establish or increase their professional network., and
  • Open up the potential for a better salary long-term. Lateral moves may be a short-term price some are willing to pay to eventually access roles with more attractive salaries.

Benefits of lateral moves to business

Lateral moves may result in a business losing reliable or talented employees, but there do also exist some research-backed benefits:

What are some of the downsides of a lateral move?

Like any career move, lateral moves will not be suitable for everyone. Here are some of the potential downsides:

  1. Compensation – as we touched on earlier, these moves are not promotions. Each individual must weigh up their circumstances to determine whether moving companies is worth the hassle. In other words, would a lateral move advance their career faster at another employer? Is the individual willing to work for a lower salary for the prospect of more attractive remuneration in the medium-term?
  2. Lack of clarity – those who make lateral moves often and deviate from their career path risk raising a red flag to recruiters. In this instance, employees must be able to articulate why they change positions frequently and how those moves fit into their career plans.
  3. Lack of career growth when a lateral move does not eventually result in a promotion or a more attractive salary, it can result in career stagnation. To reduce the likelihood that a lateral move leads nowhere, employees must perform due diligence on the new company and ask lots of questions. Is there a clear growth path? What is the expected timeframe for promotions and does the company tend to promote internally?

Key takeaways:

  • Lateral moves describe the process of an employee moving from their current position to one that is similar in salary, title, or seniority. 
  • Lateral moves can be beneficial for employees who want to pursue a passion career, extend their professional network, or simply start afresh. At the organizational level, lateral moves improve performance, employee retention, and the capabilities of the workforce. 
  • Some of the potential downsides of lateral moves include a lack of career growth and clarity. It can also be difficult to determine whether the move is worth the employee’s time or resources.

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