Laying the Golden Egg: Employer unilaterally shifting my contract.
June 24, 2013 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I took a job which I initially really enjoyed and was doing well at in a small company, by far exceeding standard targets across a variety of measures. Shortly after my six month review, my employer has began to play loose with the terms of a pretty weak contract, and it's impairing my performance as I weigh whether I need to shift my own priorities. Is this symptomatic of problems ahead or just a lack of business sense that I can leverage myself sufficiently to deal with? What is my next move and how do I go about it?

I took a job with a lower-end compensation package to regain entry into a field I had taken a two and half year break from (it's a remunerative field, so lower end is still a liveable salary). Bonuses are standard in this industry but I was told that we were not doing bonuses because there were no standard "targets" - the focus was development. I was told that they did not want me to make choices purely for profit at this point and that the target/bonus system tends to create that (something I agree with, to a point, and had embraced). I was also told I would have two weeks of holiday per year, something I place a fairly high priority on because my job is "high stress".

I did not discuss certain things during my contract because some things are very standard, for example a cell phone plan or allowance. On starting, I discovered that they seemed expected me to use some of my own resources for these things - offering to set up my own phone so I could work on it or my laptop at home for network use. I anticipated renegotiating this later.

Fast forward to the six month review. I'm doing very well - my feedback is good, all measures of productivity are excellent. We discuss my partly being paid in company shares in the future and long term involvment with the company. Bringing in targets is briefly mentioned, and at this point I don't mind because the target/bonus system would only work to my advantage. The increase in my salary had be prenegotiated, something that in retrospect I probably should have not agreed to, and I locked in for another twelve months at what I consider to be a low-end salary.

Two weeks later, targets are imposed. They're far above industry standard, measured in an unusual, unrealistic way that creates undo stress, and don't come with any discerable bonus structure; also, they were imposed by an email rather than a real discussion or meeting. If I were hitting these targets at a similar job, I would be earning $25,000 to $50,000 more per year. It is very possible that I will hit the targets, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth that I'll be doing so without anything in return and the unwritten terms of my employment were suddenly varied for no apparent reason other than an opportunity to make money.

The next twist is that I sat down with one of my employers to discuss scheduling time off. The only other person who does my job in the office is about to take almost one year's leave and is departing earlier than was anticipated. This is going to cause serious problems as far as my being able to have any time off, let alone proper holidays. I wanted to canvass whether a contract employee was being brought in or not, and whether I should be moving my schedule to take holidays sooner than later, something not desirable to me but better than 18+ months straight with no time off. I was told that the law was that I could not take holidays until a year's employment but that they would "waive the law" if I could fit some time in (this is completely untrue, the law is that at minimum I get holidays after the year not that I am barred from taking holidays until the year is up, and in my view I clearly contracted to two weeks within the calendar year).

The one-two punch of finding out that my holiday time is actually the statutory minimum rather than the contractual entitlement that it clearly appears to be in the offer I accepted (!) and imposing targets without any sign of additional compensation made me think that rather than working ot meet these insane targets I should be working on setting myself up for another job when my one-year anniversary comes up and enjoying my life.

I spoke to one of my coworkers who is furious about the targets and indicated that they had anticipated salary increases commensurate with productivity that never materialized. They responded by scaling back their effort and ramping up parental leave. This coworker is now what I would describe as unhappy with her job and I believe will leave the company within two years. They view the employer as cheap and have provided me with various third hand stories where employees asking for more money have been retained but the request has been dismissed with a certain arrogance.

The thing is, I otherwise have a fairly good relationship with my employer, and I like my coworkers. If they weren't messing around with my paycheque and quality I would be happy to stay and be productive - my actual time spent at work is generally pretty happy, and I was very happy until the last couple of weeks and these incidents. A lot of this job is "working" for me, but all of the above has left me with a feeling in my gut like I should be planning my exit now before I start to hate my job (and my life).

What should I do, what is the next move? If you have been in a similar situation, what was the mistake you saw in retrospect or the thing that improved your circumtances?
posted by skermunkil to Work & Money (5 answers total)
If they weren't messing around with my paycheque and quality I would be happy to stay and be productive - my actual time spent at work is generally pretty happy, and I was very happy until the last couple of weeks and these incidents.

Listen to your gut. Your employer, at a minimum, is there to pay you fairly for your work, and to set reasonable, consistent expectations about what that work may entail. This is the fundamental compact that an employer has with their employees, and it sounds to me like they are fucking with it. It's great to have fun while at work -- it really is -- but you can't eat fun, can't pay your rent with fun, and fun at work has to be built on top of a framework of getting the basic things right. This place sounds toxic to me.
posted by gauche at 9:29 AM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Talk to other staff, as I suspect they are mostly pissed about the much-higher-than-standard targets. Then ask the boss to have a meeting with everyone to discuss the target levels. Or, wait until a lot of staff have difficulty meeting the targets without lots of extra work time, and then bring up the high targets. Do research on standard targets to back up your concerns.

2 weeks vacation per year in a contract means that by the end of year 1, you have accrued 2 weeks. Some employers don't let you use vacation right away, but you still accrue it. If you are considering taking time off when it's less optimal for you, but convenient for your employer, and they give you a hard time, that's a really bad sign.
posted by theora55 at 9:37 AM on June 24, 2013

The fundamental question is, can you get another job with better conditions (this includes holidays, but also professional dev and satisfaction) and remuneration?

If not, why not, and what do you need to do to make it happen?

While jumping ship seems like the best option, it doesn't mean that you can't at least try to negotiate, but in this case it may be wise to pick your battles. So, it's at least worth discussing the outlandish targets. Let them know that it may be unrealistic. Bring a nice diagram of your sales performance and how you contribute to the bottom line. Hopefully you can reset at least the sales expectations.

And then look for another job, and, since they are intent on following the letter of the law, give the bastards the absolute minimum 2 weeks' notice when you find that job, ideally at EOD on a Friday.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:32 AM on June 24, 2013

Best answer: Yes, get another job.

They are setting you up to fail at this one, as well as breaking their word.

I don't know how it is where you are, but in the UK if you do not object in writing to a change to your contract terms you are considered to have accepted those terms by your conduct. Check the law in your jurisdiction.

But basically, this is the kind of job people spend years in, because a change is about to happen that will make it all worthwhile, and they can handle it. Will it still be fun in six years' time?
posted by tel3path at 11:15 AM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

The only other person who does my job in the office is about to take almost one year's leave and is departing earlier than was anticipated.

Looks to me as though you have massive advantage right now. Why not use it? The company is clearly out to get you, so get them while you can.
posted by rada at 11:17 AM on June 24, 2013

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