Am I being stiffed by the family business?
January 25, 2012 5:58 PM   Subscribe

I need to know if I'm being underpaid. I work for family and I think this actually gets me worse treatment than if I were a stranger. I am a skilled nutritionist with a background in biology. I write nutritional programs for people in the context of a retail nutrition store. I am good at what I do and get results. I am well liked by the customers. I also design much of the advertising for the store, for example small interior signs and large exterior signs. I use Photoshop and I have a background in design and art. Not to toot my own horn, but I am good enough that I've been offered outside work. I also write and do the layout for a monthly scientific newsletter. It takes me about 12 hours to produce. I can write well. (I got A's in college English at a good university). I've been working there for 5 years and I get paid around $29,000. I am beginning to write all of the web content for the website as well. It requires in depth knowledge of science. Thank you in advance.

The other nutritionist is paid $33,000, has been there three years, and her additional duties include doing some of the ordering and invoicing for the store.

The owner of the business tend to value or devalue my work according to what she finds it "good for the business" to pay at the time. She tends to pick favorites and devalue the work of the others.
posted by KoiPond to Work & Money (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, next time you're offered outside work, take it. That way you can work your ticket out of there.

posted by tel3path at 6:00 PM on January 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

Where do you live? It's kind of hard to say one way or the other without some context, but I think there's a good chance you might indeed be underpaid.
posted by un petit cadeau at 6:02 PM on January 25, 2012

Where are you? How much would the offers of outside work pay?
posted by jacalata at 6:02 PM on January 25, 2012

Response by poster: I live in a large city in Texas.
posted by KoiPond at 6:03 PM on January 25, 2012

Response by poster: I could get at $35-$40 per hour free lance so far.
posted by KoiPond at 6:04 PM on January 25, 2012

My gut says yes, you are being way underpaid, but I guess that depends upon your eduction, location, experience, etc. Here's median earnings of dieticians and nutritionist from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can narrow it down more by state by using this tool.
posted by jabes at 6:04 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

The best way to find out whether or not you're underpaid is to apply for other jobs and see how much your skills are worth to other people. But I'd also say that as a general rule, anyone with a degree in the sciences from a good college who has 5 years of work experience and is making less than $30k a year is either overqualified for their current job or grossly underpaid.
posted by decathecting at 6:05 PM on January 25, 2012 [11 favorites]

Short answer: YES
posted by cyndigo at 6:08 PM on January 25, 2012

Response by poster: I am a bit hard to categorize as far as what my educational background is worth in terms of being a nutritionist. I have a BS in biology. Texas does not have specific requirements for calling yourself a nutritionist. In real terms, I offer more in revenue to the business than a registered dietician would, because their education does not focus on supplement or even current research about diet. The other nutritionist on staff also has a BS degree. I graduated from a pre-med program at a top pre-med school.
posted by KoiPond at 6:09 PM on January 25, 2012

Response by poster: What happens when you add my nutritionist work to my design work to my newsletter work to my web content work. I want to go to my boss and say that x amount is what I should be paid. I think she takes advantage of how hard it is to classify my job.
posted by KoiPond at 6:11 PM on January 25, 2012

If this boss is family, you will probably not win. Do you WANT to continue working here? It doesn't sound like a great environment. Health/med writers with science and tech skills are not a dime a dozen ... why not look for other jobs?
posted by cyndigo at 6:15 PM on January 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'd figure out how much of your 40-hour week you spend doing different tasks, and look up the salary for people who do those tasks, then do the math. If half your time is a nutritionist and half is a web designer, take the average salary for each of those in your area, divide it by two, add them up, and that's roughly what you should be making. Sounds like it will be more complicated with the variety of jobs you do, but it's a logical way of figuring out what you should be making. And obviously there's added value because you can do ALL of those tasks!
posted by jabes at 6:17 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, you're underpaid if you can make more at a comparable position. The problems it that, working for a family (and their small business), there aren't a ton of comparable positions -- what is market value in a limited market?

The other thing is, it's a business they're running. They're small. They may not be able to pay you more. Ultimately, you're making close to what the other nutritionist makes.

How do you find out if you can make more money? Find out what others are willing to pay you. Not for freelance work, since the hours with that are less, as well as less consistent and not guaranteed. There's definitely value in having full time employment.

Regarding your most recent update, I think you're looking at it wrong. Even though you're doing multiple things, you're still doing multiple things in one job, so you're not going to be paid as a nutritionist and additionally as a web content writer.

Really, I think tel3path nailed it. Find out what you can get for outside work. You will either find that you can make more money, or you won't. If you can, either ask for a raise or take the other offer.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:18 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, I'm making close to what the other nutritionist makes, but several thousand dollars less, and really I do a broader array of skilled tasks. This is a long-standing thriving small business. There is a difference between what the owner technically has available for salaries, and the part she would prefer to make available for salaries, with the rest going into savings and investments. She could pay more. That is where the active devaluation comes in. She wants to convince herself she shouldn't have to pay more, because I'm not doing that great a job anyways, which, objectively speaking, not true.

I don't expected to be paid for several different jobs added together. I do expected to be compensated for doing a good job in a number of diverse areas and to be compensated for the fact that I can fill so many different roles well.

As far as the value of my job, what I know is that I am irreplaceable to this small business. No way can they find someone else to do all that I do as well as I do it. And definitely not for $29,000.

I am going to take jabes' advice and try to estimate my expected pay based on how much time I spend doing each thing.

Does anyone know:
What someone would get paid for the writing and layout of a newsletter?
The pay for writing technical web content?

Thanks for all the advice so far.
posted by KoiPond at 6:38 PM on January 25, 2012

I think what you need to consider is what it would cost the company to replace you. That's what you're worth TO THEM. Fulfilling a weird array of roles can work in your favor--what are the odds that they will find another nutritionist/web designer?

Interview for other jobs (if a good one comes your way, take it! Problem solved). But if you don't get a new job by your annual review, ask for a raise.
posted by elizeh at 6:39 PM on January 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry for the typos. Cringe.
posted by KoiPond at 6:39 PM on January 25, 2012

Move on. No guilt about leaving them in the lurch, either. They should either have supported you better, or they need to find out the hard way what it really costs to get all that done. You are doing three jobs for the price of one, and that's just wrong, dammit.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:40 PM on January 25, 2012

Looks like we posted at the same time. You seem to have your answer. Now work yourself up to either finding a new job or asking for a raise. Good luck!
posted by elizeh at 6:40 PM on January 25, 2012

Remember that the rule of thumb for freelance work is that the hourly rate there is roughly TWICE what you would make hourly in a salaried position.
posted by Addlepated at 6:40 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

this site quotes a national average of $51K.

here's a similar figure.

It might be less about stiffing you and more about not being able to pay you more, but the thing to do is look around for other work. If you get a better offer you can take it back to your current employer to see if they will step up - but be completely prepared for them to wave goodbye and for you to walk away without regret.
posted by bunderful at 6:40 PM on January 25, 2012

Yes, I do think you are being underpaid. I think they are taking advantage of your diverse skill set. Because you can do so many, very different kinds of work, they don't need to hire a separate nutritionist, a separate web master, a separate writer, a separate graphic designer... In short they are saving a lot of money. I actually disagree with J. Wilson. You ought to be compensated for each role you fulfill, because it really isn't one job. It's 4 very distinct jobs with very different skill requirements. They may share the common theme of "nutrition" but that has more to do with content than the actual skills (except for the nutrionist work).
posted by joyeuxamelie at 6:45 PM on January 25, 2012

Response by poster: Elizeh- love your point about my value to them being their cost to replace me.

Bunderful- I actually know the inner workings of the finances there and I know that there is money to pay. They unfortunately just choose not to. I want to buff up my resume a bit and then I'll send it around.
posted by KoiPond at 6:46 PM on January 25, 2012

Wow, that was a lot of answers posted while typing my answers ^^;;
posted by joyeuxamelie at 6:47 PM on January 25, 2012

Response by poster: Joyeuxamelie- Should I get paid for 4 whole-ish seperate jobs, or portion the pay out according to how many hours I spend at each. Given that what you said is true, how would you estimate my expected pay? It's totally true. They save a lot of money with me.
posted by KoiPond at 6:49 PM on January 25, 2012

I agree that your best bet is to try and get solid offers from other jobs - nothing like getting out there to see what you are really worth.

That being said, sometimes family businesses have other perks, like a part-interest in the business, or an expectation of becoming a manager/owner. It doesn't sound like that is the case for you. If you don't have those kinds of perks or a deeper tie to the business than most likely you will be better off getting a job outside the family, for a lot of different reasons.
posted by ianhattwick at 6:56 PM on January 25, 2012

This is going to sound a little mean, but it's not. I think you're getting the clear message here that you ought to go looking for another position, and I agree with that advice. You will undoubtedly need to take work samples and clips with you when you look for other work.

But before you do that, please ask someone else to proofread what you have written. If your writing in this thread is any indication of your 'technical writing,' there are some problems that go beyond typos or misspellings (i.e. 'seperate')--problems that seem to be connected to clarity.

That said, I think it's worth your time to become a registered dietitian if you want to continue to work in the field; many employers will not look on a pre-med undergraduate degree as enough of a background to consult or write about nutrition.
posted by yellowcandy at 7:02 PM on January 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

I agree that you are almost certainly being underpaid.


I very much disagree with this advice: "If half your time is a nutritionist and half is a web designer, take the average salary for each of those in your area, divide it by two, add them up, and that's roughly what you should be making."

You very well might not be able to get each of these jobs if you were competing with those who do them full-time. You say you have a background in design but don't specify exactly what. But crediting yourself for the pay of someone who devotes full- time to design is likely unrealistic. You likely don't have the credentials your competition does, and might not also be realistically as good, simply by virtue of having your time spread out to multiple skills.

I have gone through contortions in my own work life to figure out whether I was underpaid or not. Long, loooong story short: ultimately what matters is how you feel. If you feel resentful and unappreciated, you should seek to remedy that, whether by asking for a raise and/or by looking elsewhere. In my own life, exactly never did that feeling of being taken for granted/undervalued go away when I talked to my employer and asked for a raise, even if I got the raise. I have always had to move on to another position.
posted by parrot_person at 7:12 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Yellowcandy, I am actually hand-painting a sign and wolfing down dinner while responding to these messages. Metafilter is not formal writing and earlier in the posts I apologized for the typos because they might be unpleasant to read. I wrote quickly, mea culpa. You should not assume that this reflects what I consider a careful or professional writing approach. So no, this is not my "technical writing." And yes, it seemed presumptuous and mean spirited, on your part.

Plus, technical writing refers not to an absence of mistakes, in my case, but rather to my employment of a knowledge of science in my writing.

A Registered Dietician degree doesn't really touch on modern nutritional science. Not much use as far as knowledge, though I agree it is an advanced degree, and that is looked well upon.
posted by KoiPond at 7:23 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Great advice, Parrot_person. Maybe combined with Elizeh's approach of determining value by recognized the cost to the business of finding someone to fill all of my many shoes. These seem like good approaches.
posted by KoiPond at 7:27 PM on January 25, 2012

What do you want? Do you see an advantage to working in this family business? Do you want to stay?

I ask because, even if you can show that it would cost them $X to hire a part-time web developer and $Y to hire another staff nutritionist, or $Z to hire someone with both skillsets, I strongly suspect it's going to be an uphill battle for you to get them to pay you anywhere near $X+Y or $Z. You have two years more experience than the other nutritionist, and you know she's making significantly more than you--and, crucially, your relative who makes hiring/pay decisions knows that you know. She doesn't value you as an employee. I suggest you find an organization that will.

I mean, unless Texas is way different from where I've lived (Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania), you're being underpaid pretty much no matter what. Nutritionist skills, web developer skills, five years experience, and a college degree--you should be making more than $29K. It'll be much easier to get what you want if you look outside of the family business.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:02 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The owner's budget situation is irrelevant. You don't get to decide that she should take money that she plans for other investments and spend it on you instead. And if she really didn't have the money to pay you, that would be irrelevant—you should still find a job that pays you the market rate.

I am irreplaceable to this small business. No way can they find someone else to do all that I do as well as I do it. And definitely not for $29,000.

I've had employees that I knew I wouldn't be able to replace for the amount we were paying them. And we just didn't. Less got done without them, but it's not like we stopped functioning. We just managed to muddle along.

I'd be cautious about how you bring this up—you seem more than a bit overconfident here. Bringing up how much it costs to replace you would be fine, but using your access to the firm's financials to make the argument that they can afford you isn't. Finding a job elsewhere would be best.
posted by grouse at 8:06 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wages are determined by the job you perform, the quality at which you do it, your understanding of what you are worth, the surrounding talent pool, and what the business can afford to pay. Additional, unrelated degrees, sometimes just a degree, can make people think that they are worth more than they are. With that statement, I'm not saying that there are aspects of your education that are worthless - I'm saying that there are aspects of specific knowledge which do not contribute to your compensation.

Given what you have said about your duties and responsibilities, you have grown in value to your employers. Were you hit by a bus tomorrow, it sounds as if it would be impossible to replace you with a new hire. With that said, it is probably reasonable expect that two people could possibly be trained to each perform half your duties. I pulled up 3 salaries for Austin,TX - since it was the worst performing of Dallas, Houston and Austin, and the salaries for 3 positions: Dietician ($50K), Designer I-Web ($51K), and Produce Clerk ($27K). One of those things was not like the others. One of those things, didn't belong...

Now here is where you have to be honest with your worth and what your job is. The summer between High School and College, I roasted coffee, stocked shelves, served coffee, provided nutritional information, baked goods, and ordered a portion of a market's groceries. In my spare time, I also improved the companies website, but this was back in the days of Mozilla - so improving a website was a very different thing than it is today. I also made $11/hr. Was I irreplaceable for my web duties, sure... but I was replaceable for everything else, and the web duties were the icing on the cake - an unneeded sideshow so to speak. For the vast majority of my skill sets, any college bound kid with an interest could be trained in a month to parrot the advice I was providing... That differential in skill set did not improve my replaceablity. Independent Coffee Houses, Natural Food Stores, Co-Ops, Trader Joes', and Whole Foods have been capitalizing on the cool factor of the job (and the arcane knowledge of the employees who go to work there) for some time. It is what they base their business off of.

So you have to evaluate the job. Does the market bear $33K for the work of a nutritionist, or does the market bear $50K, as stated by Be honest as to the quality and expertise of the services the business you work for provides.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:27 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: More information: The business is planning on big growth soon, a great deal of which rests on my work on the website.

Another piece of info: I don't get vacation, not really. The other nutritionist gets vacation. Mine is delayed indefinitely. I can take the occasional, by which I mean 4 or so a year, single days off. I was given one day off this year with the request that I spend it with the family. How bad is that. I mean holy crap.

Of course I have thought about leaving a lot. I am concerned about finding a job in this economy and I have honestly hoped to make it big along with the business. But often, I think if they are taking advantage of me now, they will take advantage of me in the future.
posted by KoiPond at 8:29 PM on January 25, 2012

Response by poster: The business I work for is rather unique. It is a information intensive boutique supplement store in an upscale part of town. We thrive because of the quality of information we give. We literally make people better, so they come back. At this particular aspect of the job I am better than the other nutritionist and equal in knowledge to the boss. The boss outsells me, but she is in her fifties and has a forceful personality. She is like a silver-backed gorilla, has gravitas, whereas I speak with authority but look young. My particular skills are very suited to this environment.

QUESTION: Can anyone suggest another job I would be suited for?
posted by KoiPond at 8:37 PM on January 25, 2012

Based on your description of the job I wanted to add a data point. I have a friend who performed a very similar sales/nutrition advice job (at an herbal weight loss and health centre) for $13 per hour. The newsletter type work was just part of her work week so no additional wages were earned or expected. The only major difference is the web design portion of the job. I can't tell if you are doing this on your own time or not. Maybe you could suggest an extra flat rate for website design $1000 to $2000 per year to compensate for the extra time it takes?

I think the real problem is that I don't see the conversation with the family member going well. I would strongly suggest you find another job then perhaps offer to perform the design work for a fair price to the family.

Good luck.
posted by saradarlin at 9:37 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The owner's financial situation is irrelevant, as is, to a degree, your duties, because they are all linked-- in fact, basic web skills and newsletter writing is pretty much an expected skillset for any job, these days.

I am concerned about finding a job in this economy

If you can replace your job at an equal or higher salary (one that would offer you regular benefits like vacation days and health insurance), then you know for a fact you're underpaid.

To be honest, most jobs have ancillary duties are unique to the position. If you're not writing newsletters, you're giving sales seminars. If you're not making signs, you're involved in purchasing, etc.

My guess is that it would cost your employer a lot more to replace you than to keep you. But to replace you, you would have to leave for a job that would be more compelling than the one you have now, and if you can't find another job, then you have no leverage.

My advice, if you want to make it big in the "family business," is to leave, do well and develop your skills on your own, and then come back to the family business from the standpoint of being a professional on equal standing with your potential family employers. Then you have more negotiating room and more professional respect from your family.

I graduated from a pre-med program at a top pre-med school.

And what are your classmates doing and what are they making? It's possible that you may have shunted yourself into a career dead end that just doesn't have a lot of opportunities for professional advancement and salary increases. You're effectively working in retail.
posted by deanc at 10:07 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

It seems like you know the answer, you are getting paid less than someone who is doing a similar job, with a narrower range of responsibilities and required skills, and you are being denied basic benefits that are being given to this other person. They are taking advantage of you. That might change if you put your foot down, but really, why would you want to continue working for someone who was happy to take advantage of you?

Start looking for other jobs as a nutritionist and/or doing web work (i doubt youll find a job that needs both though) and take the first one that seems like a good fit. At the same time, you might consider if you couldnt start a blog on the subject and try and build an audience as a way to take advantage of the expertise you've allready developed.
posted by Good Brain at 12:51 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're getting shit on. get outta dodge
posted by MangyCarface at 7:02 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Science writer here. For science writing, that is (sadly) not actually too bad - even with your degrees and experience. It's a very underpaid field. But, your employer probably doesn't know that, and should not be taking that into account. I'd say, if you can find something outside that pays better, I would use that either as an excuse to take the other job, or to ask for a raise.
posted by easternblot at 10:10 AM on January 26, 2012

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