Do I need a new job?
July 30, 2011 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Salary Filter: Am I getting screwed?

I started with a company about 1 1/2 ago, first on a contract basis and then with an offer to join the company. During the salary negotiations I had asked for a larger increase due to my qualifications for the position which includes a related master's degree, and a few years of experience in a supervisory and management capacity. The increase was turned down to ensure consistent salary compensation within my job title group. Sounds good.

As I have been working, more and more responsibilities have been directed my way and my review was rated as excellent (not exceeds expectations) yet again an increase was denied with a suggestion that it would be made up in the form of an annual bonus to keep the company competitive. This too was acceptable to me as it seemed as though fairness was playing into this equation as well. I continue to perform well, complete my work on time and communicate with my managers.

Here is the catch:

The work I perform is highly technical and requires daily use of my higher education and frequently requires far more than my position description requires. Within my professional network of friends it is generally agreed that I am underpaid. My salary falls somewhere in the range of 43,000 a year, benefits and an annual bonus (3-5%). I frequently work overtime such that my hourly rate frequently dips to about 19$ hour.

While I was conducting a budget review of my unit (I supervise many employees) I came across something that caused some professional distress. The dreaded here is what everyone under you makes. An individual in a nearby department, who is a nephew of a colleague, makes 20$ an hour as an assistant, scanning documents. Bachelor's degree, probably one year out of college and no technical experience or management. Granted, his position is not benefited but this nonetheless gives me concern.

I know that "professionally" each person gets to negotiate their salary and that it is their business. I did not set out to find this, I was merely fulfilling a request. Now I feel undervalued. Any thoughts? Any ways to approach this? I like the company generally but I can't decide what to do. Do I grow up and get over it, look for another job, or discuss my value with my superiors again? Any advice would be wonderful.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's hard to answer this kind of question without knowing the industry in which you're working, the location, etc.

If you feel you're undervalued, then you need to make that case to your management. If they're not receptive to your arguments, you have two choices: (1) accept their decision, or (2) find other employment.

It sounds like you've tried to make a case to management and they have not agreed with you. So, the question then becomes do you accept that or do you find other employment?
posted by dfriedman at 10:13 AM on July 30, 2011

Have you received any raises? If you've been there over 18 months without one (contract or not), it's time to ask for one.

If they refuse, I would probably start looking elsewhere if you feel like you're not being paid what the position is worth.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 10:14 AM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

You really can't compare salaries to per-hour employees. That does not mean I don't think you're getting screwed.

You keep asking for a salary increase, they keep saying no, and you keep saying OK. If the reason they won't give you a salary bump is because of your job title, tell them to change your job title to be commensurate with your actual, functional job duties and asjust your salary while they are at it. If they want to give you an annual bonus instead of a raise out of fairness to the company, think about and articulate the fact that company is not being particularly fair to you.

Of your three options, I would say discuss your value with your superiors again. Do not talk about the assistant because that is weak, weak sauce and super-whiney and you are vastly underestimating the value of benefits like health insurance. Do NOT talk about how you feel undervalued - nobody gives a shit how you feel. Show how you are undervalued. Be very specific in what you ask for: "I need a 12% raise to bring my salary up to par with my job functions in this role industry-wide." Take 10%, but if you don't get it, be prepared to jump ship.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:17 AM on July 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

You really can't compare salaries to per-hour employees.

You totally can, and the original poster is definitely getting screwed.
posted by mhoye at 10:32 AM on July 30, 2011

You totally can, and the original poster is definitely getting screwed.

Not if the other employee isn't getting any benefits. Obviously it doesn't make sense to add the *cost* of those benefits to your employer, but rather what they're worth to you. For example, if your job provides you insurance, and not him, then that adds to your salary whatever it would cost you to get insurance. This is not inconsiderable in my experience. You also probably have paid vacation and an hourly employee does not. There may be additional benefits in the form of 401k matching, employee stock purchase programs, etc, etc, all of which may have real dollar benefits to you as an employee.

This is not an opinion as to whether you're getting screwed, just saying, you have to compare apples to apples.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:37 AM on July 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

You totally can, and the original poster is definitely getting screwed.

I agree that you can, but you also need to take benefits into account. I wouldn't mention the assistant.

I don't really have much to add here, except this: I don't know what industry the OP works in, or where s/he lives, but $43k per year sounds like quite a low salary for someone in a supervisory role. Just on that alone, I'd say you deserve a healthy raise.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:39 AM on July 30, 2011

You need a raise. Read about how to ask for one, practice on a friend or spouse. Negotiate from a position of strength--you ARE valuable to the company. Find out what your industry standard is as well as what the going rate locally is.Benefits are important and need to be factored in, but look at what other companies offer also. I'll be you're getting majorly screwed, and it can only happen if you let it.

If you leave, they have to find and train someone else, and that can be more expensive than giving you a raise. If they won't play ball, go somewhere else. I'll bet you could even make more in federal service, and they don't pay squat.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:57 AM on July 30, 2011

with a suggestion that it would be made up in the form of an annual bonus to keep the company competitive

Couple of things alarm me about this statement: is the annual bonus something that all employees get? Are they planning on making up the lack of a raise by giving you more of a bonus than other people are getting (actually agreed to and not a "suggestion")? Is there anything that determines your bonus, on an individual basis, or is it tied into something as vague as "the overall success of the company"?

You've been OK with the denial of two salary requests and, from the tone of your question, it doesn't seem like your bosses know how frustrating this is to you. Even if you don't get the salary increase, they need to know your displeasure. Otherwise, they are going to continue squeezing you for every dollar they can (business sucks and it is not fair).

If you feel undervalued and underpaid and have legitimate reason to think this (based on your industry, location, and experience), then you need to start looking for a new opportunity. It doesn't matter how much you like your job if your bosses are undervaluing you (sucks in the short term) or can't afford to give you a raise (long term troublesome). If the opportunities to move elsewhere don't exist in your area, then your bosses know this and that's why they won't (or don't need to) offer you more money.
posted by tommccabe at 11:10 AM on July 30, 2011

Ugh- forgot to expand on my thought on the bonus situation:

If the bonus is tied into the overall health of the company and you aren't personally accountable or rewarded for your success, then there's nothing to stop them from saying "Sorry guys, the year was bad for us!" and not giving out bonuses- especially if they lose a client or business dips through no fault of your own. You need to define personal metrics of success with your bosses that tie into your bonus, or otherwise you have no reason to count on that money at the end of the year (no matter how much they "suggest" it is going to happen).
posted by tommccabe at 11:12 AM on July 30, 2011

What does the market pay for your skill set in your location?
What is the availability of jobs in your field with your experience?

Those are the questions you want to ask if you're looking at compensation. Internal equity is interesting, but it's not going to get you a raise. Knowing your value in the market is a more fruitful way to drive a compensation discussion.

Unfortunately, this question isn't something we can answer with the details you've given.
posted by 26.2 at 1:01 PM on July 30, 2011

You and your company are doing an awful lot of comparing. They won't give you increases because that would put you at a higher salary than others. You have an increased urgency to make more because of someone else's pay.

As you can see, this is never going to work to your advantage. What do you care how much others make? Sure, in a perfect world everyone would make equal pay. In a perfect world, we would value artists as much as we value lawyers. This isn't a perfect world, and everyone's labor is not compensated equally. So, the conversation should never be about someone else's pay.

My advice is ask for more or don't, but take comparison off the table for yourself (when thinking of the coworker) and refuse it as acceptable explanation from your management (when they explain why they can't pay more).
posted by Houstonian at 1:32 PM on July 30, 2011

"The work I perform is highly technical and requires daily use of my higher education and frequently requires far more than my position description requires. Within my professional network of friends it is generally agreed that I am underpaid. My salary falls somewhere in the range of 43,000 a year, benefits and an annual bonus (3-5%). I frequently work overtime such that my hourly rate frequently dips to about 19$ hour."

You're unsatisfied. You've made it known several times, and your anecdotal evidence from your network confirms you're underpaid. I don't think another unprepared chat with your superiors will change anything.

What you need is information, and credible alternatives. You got a bit via this salary review. But you were told they wanted "ensure consistent salary compensation within my job title group." You don't know what that is, and there remains a strong taboo about getting it. So you need to find ways to get it. Assuming you haven't done so, find other people in your role and get to know them, and subtly gauge their financial situation. You'll also need to reach out to other firms in some manner, direct or indirect. For example, they might be advertising positions with salary ranges (direct), or you might discover information posted on (indirect). Once you've got new 3rd party information, you'll get Ideally you want something you'd be comfortable sharing with the people who approve your salary (so if you do know what other people in your role make, this would be bad to disclose). It might take an offer letter, but that's a fairly extreme measure to get a raise and should be treated as a last resort. Less combative is a simple citation of BLS data in your region.

But be prepared for the chance that you discover your role isn't well remunerated in industry. If that's the case, it's time to consider whether your career and net worth is better served by seeking a new role, inside this form or elsewhere. For example, in my field many places treat Project Managers as a lower pay grade than DBAs or Sysadmins. As a result, people with a lot of "technical experience" rarely choose or stay in PM roles.

PS. If you used to be on contract as a 1099 you should know the value of benefits and taxes factor into the equation and obscure a comparison to this doc scanner guy.
posted by pwnguin at 1:54 PM on July 30, 2011

A bonus is a way for them to guarantee that they can pay you less in the future.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:06 AM on July 31, 2011

You really can't compare salaries to per-hour employees.

It's not entirely an answer to your question, but this is absolutely true.

Based on your numbers (43k/yr, sometimes your salary 'drops' to as low as $19/hr) - I calculate this to mean sometimes you're working 45 hours/week. I have to say, if you're salaried, and supervising employees, you should be really happy that your work weeks don't regularly exceed this.

The thing about salaried positions is that, by their nature, they are implicitly expected to incur additional hours above and beyond 40 on a regular basis. By signing on as a salaried employee, you've agreed to this fact, so you have no basis on comparing what you make to someone else in a completely different situation. (If salaried people weren't expected to work more than 40 hrs / week, there would be no point in having a salaried wage as opposed to hourly. If I told you that you would never ever work overtime, why would I pay you a guaranteed weekly wage, when I could get by with paying you less if you didn't work a full 40 hours?)

While I agree that you could just refuse to work any overtime, I can almost guarantee that this will hurt you in the long run, in terms of both review results and any possible bonus / raise amounts. 'Clock watchers' regularly make up a very large portion of the bottom end of the merit increase / bonus scale every year.

Now, to answer your specific questions: First of all, you need to stop comparing yourself to people who aren't in your specific situation, and focus on people who are. Look outside your organization if you have to - salary websites, even do some preliminary job hunting to see what the going wage for your position and responsibilities actually is. If you find you're in an appropriate range, then yes, it's time to "grow up and get over it" - you can't change what your entire profession's average salary is. Focus more on how you like the job itself - good benefits? Working environment? Flexibility as a salaried employee? If all that checks out, focus on continuing the excellent reviews and things will work out in the long run, if management appreciates / recognizes top notch performance. If they don't - or you find that you're on the low end of your industry's scale and mentioning this to upper management one last time doesn't make any difference, then it's time to move on to greener pastures.

You also don't mention whether or not the bonus issue worked itself out, or if it's still to be seen what happens. If the latter, perhaps wait until it does - this will tell you how sincere they were in telling you this is how they'll recognize your efforts.

I'm sorry you're in this 'position equity' situation where management wants to make sure everyone makes the same thing so nobody gets pissed... I hate this mindset. It gives no incentive to outperform your colleagues. Who cares if Bob finds out he makes 10k less than Mary for the same job...maybe Bob needs to start kicking a little more ass around the office.

This reply is already too long, but if I can offer one last piece of insight - the mere fact that you felt the need to mention that this doc scanner was a nephew of a colleague raises a huge red flag to me, a flag that says jealousy. If you're going to supervise people and be in a position to review specific peoples' salaries, you NEED to get over this. You HAVE to look at this information objectively. It is your business to review and report - but it's not your business to remember and judge.
posted by SquidLips at 10:51 AM on July 31, 2011

Comparing your salaried rate to the hourly rate of someone in a different role in a different department is fraught with problems. While I understand how frustrating it is to be making a similar hourly rate to someone who seems not to deserve as much, try not to stew on it. In fact, this is the exact reason they're trying not to give you a raise--they're worried other employees will think they're underpaid relative to you!

That said, it sounds like you are underpaid relative to what you could make outside of your company, which should be your real gauge. In this case, you do deserve a raise, and it's fundamentally not your problem what others with your title make at the company.

Ask for a promotion or title change, to assuage their concern about a comparison with others. At the same time as you ask, say something like "I don't believe my salary is competitive with the salaries for similar positions in the field, or with my demonstrated record of achievement here." They will understand the code for "I'm leaving if you don't find some way to give me more money." If they don't give you more money, leave.
posted by _Silky_ at 10:59 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

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