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In Business, what is a Lateral Move?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A lateral move in business tends to refer to when an employee moves from one area of work to another without changing pay grade or salary. There are numerous why a lateral move can be helpful to a career, and also reasons why it may thwart someone’s personal business goals. Each person must decide whether a lateral move is appropriate, although some people aren’t given the option. Sometimes when company wide layoffs or restructuring occur people are able to make the leap laterally to a different job, and are simply relieved that they did not lose their job.

There is a distinction between a lateral move and a lateral promotion, and this is important to grasp. A lateral promotion means that a person is given increased responsibilities, usually a more authoritative title, and no additional pay. Companies that are cutting costs may create lateral promotions to save money and yet have people they need of higher ranking. On the other hand, some employees may view this as a way for the company to shirk giving reasonable compensation for greater work and more responsibilities. Anyone offered a lateral promotion must determine whether the added work and chance of gaining more experience would be worth current salary.

In contrast to the lateral promotion, a lateral move usually implies a similar set of responsibilities to the ones the employee already undertakes. However, the work may be different, different skills may be required, and/or the employee may work with another department of the company. For instance some people might make the jump working as personal secretary to a human resources secretary.

There’s much to be said for the potential benefits of trying new work or working elsewhere in a company. It offers many employees the option to become more employable by learning a new skill set. Increased experience is usually very helpful.

Lateral moves sometimes can assist those who’ve had trouble gaining recognition in their department, Going to a department with better employee management skills or a proven record of developing and promoting employees may increase likelihood of pay raises or promotions in the future. Another reason why some employees might request a lateral move is if they become unable to do the work they currently are doing. People with repetitive motion injuries, for instance, might need to find a job with similar responsibilities but that does not exacerbate medical problems.

Not all employees seek lateral moves and not all are thrilled when this concept is proposed. They may be very comfortable where they are and derive great benefit from the kind of work they do and the people with whom they work. Sometimes employees get shifted into a department and already know that managers there are more difficult. It isn’t always necessary to take a lateral move unless job preservation is on the line, but each person should weigh the pros and cons carefully before deciding.

Though advantages to switching to a new department or new type of work can increase employee marketability, there’s a certain fear factor associated with trying something new. This isn’t unjustified, since there is always the chance for failure in a new environment. However, in many cases chance for failure in a lateral move is balanced by equal or even increased chances for success and furtherance of career goals.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Moldova — On Jul 23, 2010

Bhutan- Good point. I think that a lateral move also has a downside. For example, if you have worked for a company for a while and have not had much of a salary increase, this may not be a job that you may want to take.

While learning a new job is exciting, the lack of a salary increase might not make it worthwhile for you. In this situation, it might be better to decline the lateral position and seek a higher paying job with another company.

By Bhutan — On Jul 23, 2010

I just want to add that making a lateral move within a corporation helps to develop your career within the organization and possibly prepare you for a higher level position.

Many organizations require their management staff to be well-rounded within the organization and often have to take various assignments before they are ready for a management position.

For example, Publix supermarkets require all of its stocking personnel to have had experience ordering and merchandising every department within the store in the grocery area.

Their rationale is simple. They want their managers to be able to know about all of the products the store carries and make sure they are able to help not only their stock personnel with questions but also assist customers with new product inquires.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia...
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