Help with negotiation
May 14, 2014 6:02 PM   Subscribe

I just got a job offer (yay!) and I need help with negotiating benefits. Problem being that this is a very small and informal company while I've always worked at large multinationals with clear guidelines for these things. I have no idea how small companies work.

So this job pretty much is what I've wanted to do for years, which is awesome. Further adding to the awesomeness is that the owner of the company pretty much changed the job description after meeting with and talking to me to better match my experience, my desires and my strengths (I took a strengths test, which told them what kinds of things I'd be good at doing). I love that they've made an effort to understand my strengths and are trying to fit the position to them. It is a very small company (less than 10 people) and the owners seem really great and seem to like me and I like them.

The company has been around for 20 years but is just on the cusp of expanding, so they're hiring around 3-5 more people. I get the impression that they've always dealt with things kind of informally - which is totally fine - but I'm not used to it, especially when it comes to negotiating benefits. I have always worked for very large, multinational companies and have had decent benefits.

My current job details:

Salary: $75,000
Bonus: $10,000
Vacation: 20 days (15 + 5 purchased)
Sick days: 6
Floating holidays: 2

I have health, dental, vision, hearing and life insurance through my company. I also have a 4% 401k match.

The new place is offering a $75k salary with a year end bonus of $5k if everything goes well. I would then be upped to $80k in January 2015 and $85k in June 2015 if everything continues to go well (there will be some goals and objectives set which I don't think will be any problem). They have a 401k match of 3% after one year. I would be eligible to participate in company bonuses starting 2015 and that could be up to 15% of my salary.

When I asked about vacation, they said that they "told" the most recent hire it was two weeks (which makes me wonder if that had anything definitive in place before that or were just kind of throwing out figures). I asked if that would be prorated for the remainder of the year and they were kind of like "Uh..." and couldn't give me a great answer. One owner said - well maybe half of that and the other owner said - why don't we just give her ten days and the first one said - but that's the whole two weeks. They said they would discuss it and let me know. I didn't get any indication if that increases after time (I didn't ask because it seemed like they didn't have any real policy around it). But they kept saying that everything was flexible and while they do ask that employees try to schedule time off outside of a couple of times that are very busy each year; they always try to accommodate anyone's request. I get the impression that as long as everyone is doing their work well, they can kind of take time off whenever (keeping in mind busy times).

While this might be fine if I knew the owners very well and understood how they operated, I would rather have time off specifically defined because otherwise I worry that I'll always feel guilty asking for a day off here or there if I am not already specifically entitled to it. While I'm a hard worker and love my job, I also place a very high value on work/life balance. I know I'm more productive when I know I have it. So I guess right now the official line is two weeks/year, unless they change that when I get the official offer letter.

Also that is PTO (so inclusive of sick and vacation days, I guess). And they said they don't have any policy on unpaid time off. Do people ever use unpaid time off to supplement PTO? I have no idea how this works.

The second thing is health care costs. My base pay will be essentially the same at first but I'll have to buy my own insurance in the marketplace, which I'm fine with but which will set me back around $200/month for health insurance. That's not including dental, life or accidental death and dismemberment. My current company's total contribution to me (salary+bonus+benefits, etc) is $92,000/year. So this new job would essentially be a pay cut.

BUT the growth potential in the new job is almost unlimited. I will essentially have free reign to build my whole department and put in place all the processes and procedures, as well as contribute to other parts of the business that need some structure. Plus, my current job is a really bad work environment and I need to leave as the stress of it has been having a negative affect on me.

I am waiting for new job to send me an official offer letter (they didn't even have one, I had to ask for it. Which I mainly did because I wanted them to commit to some of the actual benefits instead of it being a hand-wavey "we'll figure it out" sort of thing). I did show some hesitation around the above things when we talked so I don't know if they'll revise the offer in the official letter but if they don't, how should I negotiate? Or should I even negotiate? Vacation time is actually more important to me than salary and two weeks seems very low. I've always had 4 weeks or more for the nearly 15 years since I started working after college. Ideally, I would also like them to at least pay me a few grand more per year to cover my health care costs. But if I ask for, say $5k extra for that, would I then also negotiate the planned salary increases in Jan and June of 2015?

I am also concerned that trying to negotiate vacation or talk about work/like balance will make me seem like a slacker.

Finally, when they email me the offer, can I negotiate by replying to their email or do I have to call? Email would be preferable as it would be easier for me than trying to say it to them without being overly apologetic, etc. etc.

I'm kind of at a loss here and would appreciate guidance. If anyone would provide example wording that I could use, that would be even better. I work in the private sector in finance. Thank you so much!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can see you are enthusiastic. That makes it harder to see that they are offering you a cut in basically every category except "potential." I say this as someone who learned the really hard way -- discount potential. Focus on just what is in-hand right now.

How does that advice help you right now? Because this opportunity, given your enthusiasm, is going to be really hard for you to turn down. But you should, if they cannot make a competitive offer. Approach negotiations from your very strongest point -- that you are willing to walk away from the deal if it is not competitive.
posted by Houstonian at 6:16 PM on May 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

1) Of course you can negotiate by email. Whatever works best - and it's helpful to have a written record. You may need it later if they're so informal.

2) Don't put too much weight on bonuses, even if they're allegedly based on milestones, there's always wiggle room, and the chance the company may just say "Sorry it was a bad year." That exact thing happened to me, I insisted on the the bonus I had been promised, and I got it- but it poisoned the water to the extent I was pushed into resigning within two weeks.

3) Vacation days. It's very important to get this in writing! One recent trick is the "unlimited vacation" policy, which is awful. Besides the fact that it's obviously not unlimited, since they can just say "no" to a request, the trick is vacation days are compensation- if you have accrued days when you leave a job, they have to pay you for them (I know this is true in CA, and probably other states.) If you have "unlimited," guess how many days you have? Zero. Also get sick days in writing, because you don't want to be have your pay docked for being sick.

4) Health insurance. I worked for a small company where I had to buy my own insurance, but they reimbursed me for 50%. You might want to ask for at least that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:16 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm going to tell you what my boss said to me years ago when some people came to me and offered me a great job with more responsibility and equal pay:

"Don't do it."

This sounds like a really bad proposition. Your personal growth? That's fine, but accepting equal pay, more responsibility, AND less benefits and confusion over it, doesn't sound like a really well run company. It sounds like they have their thumbs up their butts.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:17 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll also agree that, while I get why you're excited, this company is throwing up a ton of red flags about not knowing how to do business professionally, and the offer isn't very good compared to what you have now.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:19 PM on May 14, 2014

As someone who has taken a pay cut on potential a couple of times, I say don't do it. I just did it again two months ago, and so far it's been a brilliant decision on my part. However, I screwed up that decision at least 3 times previously. I don't see the upside you see, and I think the owners enthusiasm at changing the job for you is because they know they are getting you cheap.
posted by COD at 6:20 PM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am also concerned that trying to negotiate vacation or talk about work/like balance will make me seem like a slacker.

Oh and please don't ever think this. They offered you the job; you know they want you and value you at least somewhat. Asking about those things will make you seem like an intelligent adult who knows their own value and can't be taken advantage of. If that's not the kind of person they want to hire, then you really really don't want to work there anyway. Trust me. Been there, regretted it, got the t-shirt.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:25 PM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think all the negativity is a bit on the conservative side.

Hi, I work for a startup. We have just about 30 employees. I was employee number 10 when I joined. At that time, we didn't have any benefits ("we're getting insurance soon, we hope!"), there was no vacation policy ("whatever you need, I guess"), and I accepted my job offer over AIM. 2 years later and I'm still paid well, we have benefits, we have an official vacation policy, and there's even a Google Doc Company Handbook. We've grown, and very much for the better.

It really sounds like your expectation is to enter a company that has it's corporate shit together -- which isn't always the case -- for better or worse! You should absolutely feel free to push for these things to be written down and agreed upon -- I don't think there's any chance that negotiating the terms of your vacation will make you seem like a slacker, I think it will make you seem a little more 'corporate' if anything. Which isn't bad -- if they're at a point where they are looking to grow, then they will have to start moving in that direction, and someone will have to put together company policies, and you might as well be the harbinger of those changes.

Of course it's entirely possible that this new company is super-evil, and will never pay you on time and try to screw you out of every hour you work for them. It's also entirely possible that they are just a chill small company that has dealt with things a little more casually up until now. It's up to you to decide which of those options you think is more likely, and decide that if they are that chill company, if they have the chops to mature as they grow.
posted by wrok at 8:02 PM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just want to second the point about not working for a company that equates work/life balance and vacation time with slacking. I worked for that small business owner who told our admin (who worked 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week) to either quit her beloved after-work holiday-only hobby or find a new job. I worked for that small business owner who got pissed when people left the office on time--or, really, anytime before the small business owner left. I worked for that small business owner who got pissed when people left to take a half hour lunch, or who got pissed when people took all of their vacation time. Don't work for that kind of small business owner. If they balk now, just wait until you're their employee.

Don't take advantage of yourself. Ask for all the time that you want and make it clear that you have a life outside of work. Negotiate for everything you want. Ask for more pay to cover your insurance; ask for the vacation time you want; get clarification on bonuses ("if everything goes well" can easily turn into "we had a bad year"--I worked for that small business owner who always "had a bad year" and gave out raises and bonuses at his/her whim); and get clarification on PTO vs. non-PTO. Get it all in concrete details in concrete writing before you accept anything. And don't be afraid to walk. (Or, at least, don't be afraid to use this gig as a stepping stone between your current toxic, stressful job and a better job. Been there, doing that.)
posted by coast99 at 9:05 PM on May 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would be concerned. Do people there really take vacation? If you do, will you be punished, regardless of the policy?

This work environment is not going to be professional. It might or might not be toxic, but I get the sense it will all be very informal, with a big side serving of silent judging and passive aggressiveness.

Ask for what you want, though, yes. What's the worst that happens? They say no? Okay. They get mad and withdraw the offer? Then they fucking suck and you're better off finding out now.

Raising your issues by email is fine.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:20 AM on May 15, 2014

The company is not well organized; they haven't set up really basic policies that even a small company should have. They've been around long enough to tend to this. That disorganization is a huge red flag, as it will exist in other areas.

Your current position has compensation valued at 92K, the new position 80K. You're looking at a 13% pay cut, and I think you've undervalued the insurances, so maybe more. Your current position probably pays for conferences, and other things the new position may not feel they can afford. Assess the job environment at the new position, and think about how swayed you may be by their enthusiasm.

If you decide to accept the new position, negotiate for more pay and get them to define the benefits. They will respect you more.
posted by theora55 at 7:48 AM on May 15, 2014

You should absolutely negotiate for a higher starting salary, and tell them you need 4 weeks vacation. Never move jobs for less money unless there's something else special (equity etc) in the deal.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:47 PM on May 15, 2014

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