I'm undervalued, morale is low and my work is starting to suffer. How do I talk to my boss?
September 15, 2010 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm undervalued, morale is low and my work is starting to suffer. How do I talk to my boss?

I work at a small (6 employee), tight-knit IT consulting company in a major city. I'm approaching my 4-year anniversary with the company. I get paid on the low-end (15th percentile) for what I do in my city, get few benefits and I've never never gotten a raise.

A year ago, I asked my boss (also the owner) for my first raise and was denied. Not based on performance - I was told I do an amazing job and work hard - but because the company just didn't have the money. I was also told as soon as the company got some money, it was going straight to me and the other guys. Since then, I've seen us take on a number of new clients and recently a new full-time employee. None of us have gotten raises.

Since then, I've become increasingly unenthused about my job. I'm not lazy, but I've just stopped caring as much as I used to. My work hasn't slipped too much as a result, but my tracking of the work is and it's becoming increasingly frustrating for my boss.

We're at the point where I need to initiate a conversation bout these things.

How do I relate to my boss that I'm feeling undervalued and it's affecting my morale (and subsequently, my work) without sounding like I'm holding my best efforts hostage for a raise? I also need to communicate in a non-threatening way that I can't really keep working there for much longer at the salary I'm being paid. My family is starting to feel it, financially.

Since I started there, I've a) moved to the state the job is in after commuting for 6 months, b) purchased a house, c) had a child and d) started planning for the second child. My boss has been well aware of the changes. All of this was done with the (apparently incorrect) assumption that I would be getting regular raises that would keep pace with my life. Granted, there's nothing in my contract about scheduled performance reviews, but any reasonable person would assume something would change in 4 years.

I love working there, and I'd like to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Hell, I get to work from home 3 days a week (which is valuable to me). But it's hard to see any future when my living situation continues to change and my salary isn't keeping pace. I'm slowly resigning myself to the fact that it might be time to move on. But I want to do everything I can to make sure that doesn't need to happen.

How do I approach this conversation?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I had a similar conversation with my boss recently, and the message I got was "We're paying you the salary we're paying you, and if you don't like it, you're welcome to look for another opportunity."

So if, like me, you approach that conversation without some leverage, i.e. another job offer, you can probably expect to be told where you can stick it. Ergo, start looking around for other work, and if you find something, see if you can't leverage that into getting a bigger piece of the pie.
posted by valkyryn at 10:08 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

You start looking for other jobs first, and don't have it until you have an offer in hand. If they're still hiring new people, and your boss is getting frustrated with you, they're not going to give you anything but maybe a short walk to the door.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:08 AM on September 15, 2010

I wouldn't bring any of that to the table when you ask again. Just ask. Say, "I talked to you about this a year ago, I wanted to see where we stood now about instituting regular performance reviews and subsequent merit increases." If you phrase it that way, it comes out as less ME ME ME MONEY MONEY MONEY and "let's start acting like a real company."

Leverage imho is not about holding a new job offer over an employer's head. It's the employer weighing the benefits/disadvantages of bringing in someone to replace you. It's the hassle of finding someone else qualified. It's dealing with training and knowledge transfer and just the loss of a good employee who's been with you for four years and knows their job already.

[Yes, everyone is replaceable, of course, but I know this is a thought pattern that management goes through because I've been asked to assist them in these types of discussions before. "Bob is asking for a raise, and has asked three times, and at this point I figure if we don't offer him something, he'll go. I'm pretty sure he's interviewing. How much do we care about keeping Bob?" Also I've worked for people who just hated losing institutional knowledge, so they want to keep someone.]

I'm never in favor of bringing a job offer to one's current employer and saying, "Give me a raise or I quit." I would simply document everything exceptional that you've done over the past four years and make another request for a salary increase in writing. If they say no, then start looking.

The other thing to keep in mind right now is that a lot of employers - not all - have the attitude that there are so many people out of work that they don't really care if someone quits, because they'll probably be able to replace them at a bottom-dollar rate. I despise this attitude, but it's out there.
posted by micawber at 10:16 AM on September 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

Micawber, I don't disagree with you in principle, but the OP has said that his/her boss is already becoming frustrated. The time to use the "I'm an awesome employee" card is when you're still awesome - not when you're burned out, frustrated, and it's starting to show.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:21 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

"We've talked in the past about money for raises being tight, and I understand that's still the case. However, for me there's more to a job than putting in my time and getting salary bumps; I want to be challenged, and I want to feel good about coming into work every day. Now I know my work tracking has been slipping, and it's been frustrating for you -- and for me, too. I've been focusing on it more, and I realize that I'm starting to feel stagnant. I'm really interested in taking on a new responsibility or new project, and I'm wondering if you have something available."

Optionally: "For instance, I know that [some thing you know is a problem, and you have a potential solution for it]" or "I know that [person who has admitted to you and your boss that they're struggling] is struggling, and I'd like to [train/help/assist/take the load off that person."

"Even if you don't have anything right now, I wanted to put that bug in your ear in case an opportunity becomes available, and to see if you're open to hearing suggestions for additional work from me. I'm also open to things that would be in addition to my current workload, not a replacement for it."
posted by davejay at 10:40 AM on September 15, 2010

Talking will do no good. I'm in the exact same position as you (minus the pay issue; no complaints). But like the others said, the boss can tell you "you don't like it, get out". In the 8 companies, which were from small to huge Fortune 500, the same deal was across the board.

They do NOT care about your personal happiness or situation unless it affects them fiscally.

They see the squeaky wheel as problematic. They don't give a crap about your personal satisfaction, your problems, etc. They care about the bottom line and if you have a problem that is work related such as the server is down and you can't do X because of zero support, THEN they care.

But you? Nope. They 100% do not care about you.

It's seriously time to look if it's a money issue that is bringing you down. I'm sure your boss would personally like to do xyz for you. I'm sure he even agrees with you. But it's not his company nor his policy.
posted by stormpooper at 11:08 AM on September 15, 2010

stormpooper: "I'm sure your boss would personally like to do xyz for you. I'm sure he even agrees with you. But it's not his company nor his policy."

Might help to read the entire question: OP: "I asked my boss (also the owner)"

Though I agree with the others above... find another job, and once you've got an offer you like, take it to your boss and tell him you're prepared to accept it unless he can offer you a good reason to stay.
posted by Grither at 11:20 AM on September 15, 2010

I'm in a similar situation in regards to pay. It has made me very cynical. What I have learned is that if they know they can pay you less than you are worth, they are going to keep paying you less than you are worth. They have no reason to give you a raise seeing as you're already doing the work. The whole "we don't have the money" is a lot of garbage.

Sadly, I think your choice is either keep your current job (and focus on the things you like about it - such as working from home) or find another job. I know how discouraging this can be seeing as how difficult it is to find jobs in this economy. I go back and forth with what I should do, but I try to remind mysel of the positive aspects of my job.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:05 PM on September 15, 2010

I think you need to leave. My inate cynacism says that they will give one decent raise once, and you will have to fight for it, leaving everything slightly bitter. Your next raise? You'll likely have to fight for that too.
posted by Quadlex at 6:48 PM on September 15, 2010

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