How to come to peace with low salary increase
October 25, 2021 8:56 AM   Subscribe

I am so, so well off and happy. I don't need another penny. I perform at par with work. This year, they only gave me a 3% salary increase. How can I mentally envision my salary, in a way that doesn't make me sad?

I've had 3 jobs. My first job, I was at 5 years, and I went from about $50K to 100K/year. My second job, they hired me at 115k, and kept me the second year, before firing me. That job also had a 17% bonus, for a total of 135K.

My third job is amazing. Everyone here is young, hard working, and the culture is as good as it can be. There's more vacation, career progression, and everyone is (generally) happy and upbeat, compared to my last two jobs where people were sad and downtrodden and constantly complaining. They handled covid great, and I can still enjoy working from home, or going in for some meetings. I love it.

However, my third job started me at $118K + 5%, and just gave me a raise of 3.64%, to $123K ($130K total). Many employees are unhappy, but it's a huge company and likely won't budge on their policy/number, or make personalized exceptions (they just removed that ability).

$130K total is more than I ever need. I'm saving a crap ton, and can retire at 45. If I got an extra 10K/year, it wouldn't improve my life in any meaningful way. I already spend on virtually everything I could want. I live conservatively, but I don't think that would change with more money.

Something deep, encoded inside of me, still feels like I've made negative progress over time. That little number being smaller makes me feel bad. And - I watch the news. Inflation, depending on how you measure it, is incredibly high. Probably like 3-5% in my estimation. So... my raise was potentially flat or negative.

My smooth monkey brain sees the inflation number, and my low bump, and it says "you should be unhappy". At the same time, I know that's ridiculous. I don't want to fight hard to get the money, and I don't want to quit for more money. I just want to change how I think about it.

Do you have any ways you think about money that would help? Have you struggled with a lower salary than in the past, but were able to be content? Or were you always chasing that high / increasing number?
posted by bbqturtle to Work & Money (70 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I often find myself meditating on this quote:
"A person in good health in a Western liberal democracy is, in terms of his objective circumstances, one of the most fortunate human beings ever to have walked the surface of the earth."
-- John Lanchester, "Pursuing Happiness", The New Yorker, Feb. 27, 2006
posted by alex1965 at 9:06 AM on October 25, 2021 [48 favorites]

This issue has come up for me lately in the context of the housing market. I was driving myself nuts looking at listings and bemoaning that my condo was not appreciating at the same rate as other properties. I was unhappy with my own greedy attitude.

My philosophy is that it's okay to un-prioritize extracting every shred of financial value from every situation. There are other and better values that I want to centre my life upon. I was born and raised in a country with capitalism values but I can choose something different.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:16 AM on October 25, 2021 [8 favorites]

Hey, I'm in exactly the same position you're in - I may receive between a 1-3% raise this year. Except I work in nonprofit, I've been in my position for 13 years, and I don't actually make 40,000 a year. So uh, if it helps...I look at your salary and boggle.
posted by PussKillian at 9:19 AM on October 25, 2021 [68 favorites]

As long as you are being compensated fairly next to your peers (e.g., there's not a big discrepancy between what you make + someone else makes in your role at your company), and you're happy and you're making enough money, I wouldn't dwell on a single small raise.

If this is a trend over a long time, sure. A single small raise during a pandemic doesn't seem the end of the world. And it doesn't sound like this is a comment on your performance but more like a cost of living bump across the board?

Yeah, with inflation you may be making a little less -- OTOH, how's your company doing and is it facing unexpected expenses due to COVID as well? I don't want to be a "feel happy you have a job, the company is doing the best it can" person - but is there a possibility that the business is dealing with tighter finances than usual? (I'm sure they could do better / someone will suggest cutting exec pay to cover, etc. but for the purposes of this question - I don't think this is something that reflects on you.)

Like you, I've had good fortune in terms of salary bumps in my career, and I've also had years of a small CoL raise. I'd have flamed out a long time ago if I let the tiny increases bum me out.

A relentless pursuit of more more more more is going to lead to being deeply unhappy. That's not to say you should never fight for fair pay -- but there will be times when you need to ask whether "more" is necessary or reasonable.
posted by jzb at 9:20 AM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Salary is one part of compensation. Total Compensation includes salary, vacation, plus intangibles like will your boss yell at your if you leave early one day to take your mom to her cancer surgery. Your Total Compensation at this job has gone way up compared to your past jobs.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 9:21 AM on October 25, 2021 [34 favorites]

One of the benefits of having your financial needs met is that you can decouple your job from your life, and think about your compensation in terms of how your company perceives your value.

You like where you work, so that's a big thing.
Do you feel your input is valued by your manager, team, and other coworkers?
Do you have the freedom and flexibility to work how you like and take vacation time?
Do you think your manager/dept is adequately and honestly communicating the reason for the low raises?
Do you feel comfortable talking with your manager/dept about these things?

When it comes to comp, what you make is a direct reflection of how your company values you. And like that sounds obvious when you say it, but it's true. There's going to be an overall budget for raises, there are going to be (internal, if not directly communicated or published) understood salary bands for each role, and there's going to be a scale of how much raise an individual gets based on individual performance within that amount.

If I were in your position, I would honestly tell my manager that I like where I work, that I feel respected within the overall culture, but that a raise of x when your previous raise had been x+y feels demotivating. In fact, I have had this exact conversation with a previous manager before (though I wasn't in a spot where my comp was good to begin with). Because it's not about the money to you per se, but it IS about the money to your company. How that conversation goes will tell you a lot, and then you can decide how to feel after that.

Let's say you're a kid doing chores, and you get a cookie after you take out the trash and do the dishes. Then next week you do the same exact chores but only get half a cookie. Pretty soon you're gonna stop doing chores because you're not being compensated for the same level of work. It's no different. Your work has value, and as much as it would be nice to go live in a socialist fantasy dream world where everyone is compensated adequately and can live comfortably in economic justice we are simply not in that system. Your work is capitalist and you get to be too, if you want.

And by the way, it's FINE to say hey I have enough money and am comfortable. I'm in HR and we have plenty of high earners who are comfortable and complacent. They get the minimum average raises for the minimum average performance and no one cares and everyone moves on and are satisfied and that's perfectly fine. But in flusher years where the budget is bigger, or the opportunities are greater, or we have an exciting new customer account, no one seeks them out to give them extra pay/opportunity. They go to the noisier people who are asking for that recognition.
posted by phunniemee at 9:25 AM on October 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

Looking for a new job that would also give you such a good environment would be way too much work (to me). So there's that intangible.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 9:25 AM on October 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

Remember that this says more about your company than it says about you.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:32 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I’ve had this play out two ways. At my last job, a bunch of people on my team (including me) got 0% raises one year. Most of us interpreted it as motivation to find a new job. Which brings me, literally and figuratively, to my current job. Last year I think I got a 2% raise. I’m not actually sure, because I have successfully done what you’re trying to do, which is to like my job regardless. There are three main reasons why: First, we’re 95% remote (one day in the office a month), which saves me a lot on gas and business casual clothing, and infinitely more on time, which I can then use to spend time with my kids or cook (a hobby). Second, the work-life balance is great in other ways. It’s in a pretty old school industry, so the always-on ethos of tech isnt a thing. Lots of people, including the C-suite, knock off early on fridays in the summer. There just isn’t much pressure. And third, even when there is pressure, my particular manager works very hard to diffuse it. I have a lot of work-related anxiety, and his managerial style is quite reassuring. He’s very good about making me feel calm and relaxed. Don’t tell anyone at my job this, but I’d probably take a pay *cut* to be able to keep working with him.

So what you have to figure out is why this mini-raise is bothering you. If your job is more like my old one, and it feels like part of a pattern of not valuing you, then your reaction is justified. If it’s more like my current situation, remind yourself of the other ways the company shows it’s appreciation for you aside from compensation.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:34 AM on October 25, 2021 [13 favorites]

As someone who'd love $100k a year, I'll MAKE you happy Mao-style, capitalist landlord! (Just kidding--I'm sure PussKillian would feel the same way about seeing my salary.)

This is an issue that's best talked about with your coworkers (if you trust them) so that you can present a united front if conditions really are slipping at work.
posted by kingdead at 9:36 AM on October 25, 2021

Trying thinking of it in gross terms instead of a percentage? I.e.: you got a $5k raise, the same as a 10% raise back when you were making $50,000.
posted by Press Butt.on to Check at 9:37 AM on October 25, 2021 [6 favorites]

Maybe try to remember all the people who are older than you, with more eduction, training and experience, who have never been paid that much and probably never will.

None of this is based on merit or job difficulty. Be thankful you're so lucky/privileged.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:39 AM on October 25, 2021 [22 favorites]

Volunteer at a soup kitchen.


(And meant kindly.)

“You can be helped if every day you begin the first thing in the morning to consider how you can bring joy to someone else. If you can stick to this for two weeks, you will no longer [be bothered by this.]"
h/t to Alfred Adler
posted by dancing leaves at 9:39 AM on October 25, 2021 [16 favorites]

Really, though, I think of all the ways the expectation of an ever growing economy is destroying the planet and how stupid that is. It's pretty easy to then apply that idea to my personal economy.
posted by Press Butt.on to Check at 9:40 AM on October 25, 2021 [14 favorites]

Compensation is more than just salary. Part of the 'reward' for working somewhere is liking the work and the people. You get some economic utils out of that. What are your medical benefits? Vacation time or PTO? Quality of life is a big part of compensation.

Your personal value is not measured by salary increases. There are so many external factors over which you have no control that affect your work salary, raises, and bonuses. I would strive for making sure that your raise is comparable to others similarly situated at your company. Did you do something to earn a bigger raise? While there is a lot to be said for employees that just do their job and are competent at it, that is a pretty low bar. Shouldn't every employee be that way?
posted by AugustWest at 9:42 AM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Salary is one part of compensation. Total Compensation includes salary, vacation, plus intangibles like will your boss yell at your if you leave early one day to take your mom to her cancer surgery.

Seconding this - my salary at the IRC was on the lower side, but it was the single best time off policy I have ever seen at a job, ever. And nobody gave you guff if you took vacation time - they wanted people to use it, and actually looked at you funny if you didn't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:44 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

I presume you live in a big city. Go downtown, if you don't already live or work downtown, in your possibly highly gentrified city, and take a look at the people you see panhandling, or sleeping on the sidewalk. Those people may be young, too, but they probably don't look young. Just look at them. Ask yourself very seriously why it's them there, and not you. Is there anything you can do to help? That's a good question to ask, too. What can you do?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:47 AM on October 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's okay to feel disappointment, since it seems you have some of your job satisfaction tied up in your increase. And a lot of our lives, in working life, are wrapped up in review and compensation periods, where we feel like getting less than we expected is a mark against us, rather than anything else.

I would weigh that disappointment against your expectations, and take a hard look at what's really going on. Why did you expect more? Do you think you were slighted because you didn't perform up to snuff, or that you were not being seen for the work you're doing? Is this increase a sign that you need to change something in order to move up the compensation ladder in a way that will help?

If it's just a sort of, "Huh, I expected more, and I need to process that and be a bit sad, but otherwise I'm really okay," then just feel the feelings and go on. People can be happy or sad or angry about whatever makes them feel that way, and that doesn't mean anything except you've had those feelings. From your question, I suspect you're in that category, and making sure you don't let a negative feeling sour anything except a few moments of reflection.
posted by xingcat at 9:49 AM on October 25, 2021 [13 favorites]

serious suggestion: take twenty minutes to read the AskAManager column, especially the ones (she has them categorized) about coworkers, horrible bosses etc. You will viscerally understand how lucky you are not to be getting abused at work, and how (as was pointed out above) the intangible of actually liking your job is worth a ton of money.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:50 AM on October 25, 2021 [6 favorites]

I make more than you and am definitely not on track to retire by 45 or maybe ever, so in terms of mentally reframing just keep focusing on that.
posted by bleep at 9:51 AM on October 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

I mean honestly, I have only ever gotten fairly small raises percentage-wise but then when I see the actual amount of money that means, it stops feeling small. If someone just handed you 3000 bucks would you be like FEH, PASS, THAT IS AN INSULTING AMOUNT? Doubtful.

Also, I mean...time to destroy capitalism? Is it possible, even from your PROFOUNDLY enviable situation, to look at it and say hey, if I am getting this hosed, imagine how hosed ALMOST EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD is getting. Get mad, not at your raise, but at your society.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:52 AM on October 25, 2021 [11 favorites]

Are you feeling bad because this indicates that you might have found your level in your industry? Early-career big jumps are often a one-time sorting, not a promise of future performance.

You’ve already done half of what seems needed to be OK with this! Living way inside your means and finding a job that isn’t cruel to you is great. Next, as said above, realizing how relatively well off you are and being helpful. Finally recognizing limitation, which is awful but the first three really help with that too.
posted by clew at 10:03 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

"Everyone here is young, hard working, and the culture is as good as it can be."

Is the culture as good as it can be though, really? If everyone is young maybe you are lacking some cultural sense of perspective. Maybe a useful thought exercise would be considering what your salary might be in an organization that truly valued people of different ages. What would that organization look like? Not all people older than you are bitter. Why aren't they present in your workplace?
posted by ewok_academy at 10:07 AM on October 25, 2021 [9 favorites]

Suggestion, meant helpfully, though it may sound a bit "tough love"-ish:

Stop scoring your life and well-being based on compensation. Instead you've already put your finger on it "... and happy". If your needs are met (and you specifically say they are and you have excess) and you are happy, then focus on the happiness, not the financial compensation.
posted by TimHare at 10:13 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I sorta went thru this earlier this year. Except a little different. We usually get a percentage raise, but about 6 weeks before they came out we were told we'd also be getting some 'profit-sharing'. Then when it came time for my raise the percentage was lower than it had ever been. I felt....not lied to but just kinda disappointed.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2021

"Something deep, encoded inside of me, still feels like I've made negative progress over time. That little number being smaller makes me feel bad. And - I watch the news. Inflation, depending on how you measure it, is incredibly high. Probably like 3-5% in my estimation. So... my raise was potentially flat or negative."

Your monkey brain is possibly viewing your progress in a phase of old capitalist hierarchy.

Is it possible your new company knows they're sweet? (Youthfully minded, progressive, generally great)

Is it possible your company knows everything you just expressed? Perhaps particularly relevant to your individual history? Sometimes the powers that be have a better dial on you than you might know. In a very positive perspective, consider the idea these people know everything you just said: so maybe they're giving raises or promotions to people who don't feel or have these accolades or benefits.

It really just sounds like your mind is hung up on superficial cultural change. That's actually wonderful, as it can be a really simple fix. So just change it :)
posted by firstdaffodils at 10:27 AM on October 25, 2021

I'm another person for whom your and pay raise seem like a crazy dream - but I also know there are people who would think the same about me.

I read a study a long time ago of people's life satisfaction at different income brackets. The thing that stuck with me was that people in every single bracket thought their lives would be great if they were in the next bracket up. In other words, people who made $20,000 (yes, there are such people) thought life would be perfect at $30,000, and this went on all the way up in every group they surveyed. There is something very human about seeing where your income appears to fall short and not really understanding that other people think they would be over the moon if they earned what you do. That is playing out in this thread. I can't tell from your question if you really understand how incredibly well off you are. Maybe looking up average salaries for different jobs would help. In the US, the average salary in 2019 was just over $50,000. Your raise is roughly average in the US, but you're starting with a lot more money than most people do. Some people don't get raises at all.

And I agree that having only young people in your office is not a plus. At best, it shows a company culture that's not inclusive. At worst, there's age discrimination going on.
posted by FencingGal at 10:29 AM on October 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey everyone,

thanks for your answers so far. I just wanted to comment quickly to guide further answers:

I know I'm very well off and happy. Telling me I'm well off and happy isn't helpful.

The problem (in my head) is that I'm earning less than I did in the past, and with inflation, less than I did a year ago.

If you have any feedback or tips about the feeling of backwards progress, that's the advice I'm looking for.
posted by bbqturtle at 10:36 AM on October 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

Well, the real way to get raises in compensation is to move companies.
posted by AugustWest at 10:44 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

There's a few separate issues here, IMO.

1. You don't need more money to be happy or feel successful. The size of the raise does not reflect your personal worth, nor does it reflect the value of your personal and professional growth over the last year. If you feel that the size of your raise reflects your worth or the value of your personal progress, then this might be something to address with a therapist or with the help of self-help books.

2. You haven't wasted your time or effort just because your raise was smaller than you wish. You didn't fall behind. Other people may be earning more and getting bigger raises, sure, but also there are many *more* others in the world who have lost their jobs entirely and had other terrible misfortunes befall them. You don't have to measure yourself against the richer ones with bigger raises only, as if they are the only real people in the world. People less financially successful than you are also real, and equally worth measuring yourself against. What's your level of other-focused attention you are able to give someone, compared to a mother attending to a small baby? What's the level to which you have made someone else's life better, compared to a house cleaner or a social worker? What's the level to which you have created things rather than merely consumed the creations of others, compared to a woodworker or a novelist? Making a commitment to someone or something outside of yourself might help you overcome the feeling that you're falling behind in the rat race.

3. You DID deserve a better pay raise. You're right that your raise barely keeps up with inflation. This raise is all about your company's top people, their board, their shareholders getting richer off of you by refusing to pass on the profit they have made from your work. So how can you address this? Can you network more, become more visible to upper management, negotiate for a bonus structure with your bosses? Even better, can you start a union in your company to more effectively negotiate on behalf of all the workers in your company?

It helps to separate out the various strands that are combining to form this issue for you, and see what combination of solutions would most effectively address the problems.
posted by MiraK at 10:44 AM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For context, I'm in a situation where any job I switch to will pay less than I do now. For me, it'll not even be a slight decrease - it's distinctly possible my pay will go down by 50% or more. I know I will eventually want to leave my current job (although not any time soon), and I've been trying to frame in my mind how to approach that. I've always tried to maximize pay in my career. I deliberately don't consider other people - unlike many people on MetaFilter, I don't think the pay of other people impacts me (positively or negatively), so I've tried to avoid that framing and focus only on myself rather than relative pay. So, I understand your situation, although in full disclosure, it doesn't describe me right now.

The way I've started to view my career is a goal to maximize overall quality of life given available choices. In general, salary is a large part of that for me, but it's not the entire view. My friends and family matter. My time at home matters. My ability to pursue my non-work interests matters.

What are your available choices? Is it possible for you to switch jobs? I think that's something people should explore regularly even if they aren't unhappy with their job. Perspective is useful. Experience with interviewing is useful. It's a good thing to understand what choices you have.

Once you have your choices, you'll have a rough idea of what to do. If you can't find an alternative that makes sense to you - you've succeeded, you've maximized your overall quality of live. If you can find an alternative that makes sense to you - consider it broadly, and if it makes you happier, switch. It's not inappropriate for you to want to improve your overall quality of life, even if you have an awesome life. In fact, it's what I think you should be doing as a person.
posted by saeculorum at 10:45 AM on October 25, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: For what it's worth, Metafilter does not do this well.

I've talked about it before, but years ago I asked an anonymous question that I can't for the life of me find again about getting a raise. You can read the highlights in the comment I linked.

What I didn't say in that comment but what I did say in the post was that at the time I was making $50k, or perhaps just under if my memory serves. And I was getting very similar answers there as you're getting here, about how I had the a u d a c i t y to ask for more money when I was already compensated so much better than so many people. No shit there is inequality in the world, congratulations, I am not fucking blind and neither are you.

An employer will try to take advantage of every employee at every stage of their career. That is how come we are all in this position. We are all in the same boat, even if you're sitting in a nice warm dry spot in the middle and I'm perhaps on the side getting a bit of spray but otherwise quite comfy, and many many others are getting used as ballast. We all still have to work for the man to get to the next day and there is no shame in wanting to be respected and compensated fairly by your employer, no matter what stage you are at.

Good grief.
posted by phunniemee at 10:46 AM on October 25, 2021 [34 favorites]

Best answer: I had a situation something like this when I saw a job posting online, that I was well-qualified for, paying nearly double what I'm making now. I love so many things about my job, and I'm happy with my salary, but making that much more money would be life-changing.

It weighed on my mind a lot. I couldn't decide whether I owed it to my family/kids to do whatever I could to be able to make that kind of money. I talked it over with my wife and with some trusted friends and gave it some serious and honest consideration - the first time I had really thought about applying for a job since taking the job I have now.

In the end, I chose my current job, and I feel good about it. Giving it a serious chance and making a deliberate decision made all the difference. That's my advice for you - go and seriously look at what positions are out there and what money you could make. Consider the things you like and dislike about your current job, and whether you want to roll the dice on culture/fit/flexibility to get that extra money. Once you've gone through that process, either you'll decide to apply for a new job, or you'll decide that the job and pay you have is best for you right now. Make a plan to revisit your decision in a year, and you can mentally let it go until then.
posted by pocams at 10:50 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am in a very similar position as you, except that this year, I had a raise of 0% despite being given more responsibility in the preceding 12 months. Like yourself, I have other (both financial and intangible) elements of my job that are worth a lot, to the point that finding an equivalent position would be challenging.

What's been helpful: The #1 thing in helping me keep my current situation in perspective is applying to and researching other jobs, which has showed me that the compensation elsewhere would not necessarily be higher, or there are other factors (significant enough to be visible from the outside), that would make the other jobs unpleasant. Applying to other jobs, even though I don't feel I need a new job, gives me a sense of agency, purpose, and helps me stay rooted in the reality of the job market.

What hasn't been helpful: Thinking about the fact that there are others who earn less. The real issue here is that salary is a major way in which a company/management shows it values an employee. I am highly aware of the ways that employers will typically try to get away with undervaluing their employees, which makes me feel resentful. Thinking about the fact that others are undervalued or exploited by their employers does little to alleviate the resentment.
posted by Atrahasis at 11:00 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Two thoughts

Your employer may not understand the current situation and how in demand people are and may want to rethink their raise strategy. You can bring that up.

“ the feeling of backwards progress”: it isn’t that you are moving backwards; it is that other people are catching up. Wages for bottom earners have been too low for a long time now, and the inflation you are experiencing is that of others getting closer to them also having enough.
posted by Monday at 11:02 AM on October 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I see a bit of a different question here - ignore this if it is off target - but at some point i found myself in a position where my financial needs were being met, not just now but also I could foresee a comfortable future of myself and my family. But I am so used to money being a measure of value in our culture that I kept feeling like I was "supposed" to strive hard to earn more money. It is really hard to untangle the messages of respect and value that get tied up in compensation.

The best advice I have for that part of the problem is to spend some time thinking about the voice telling you that you should care that you pay is a lower number than it should be. Try to separate out the different strands - what part is worrying about your financial future, what part is about respect, what part is about how you appear to others, what part is just an internalized voice of capitalism that tells you that money is measure of worth.

You can have all of these different voices going on it once and it is easier to figure out which part to listen to when you have a better sense of each separate stream. Then you can figure out which of these voices are helpful and which you want to ignore because they don't actually fit with your own values and preferences for your life.

If you want help dealing with the unhelpful, counter-productive voices in your head, I highly recommend Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. (used copies are really cheap) It is one of my all-time favorite self-help books because it knows that just trying to read the book will wake up the gremlin voice that tells you aren't reading it right and tells you how to deal with that too.
posted by metahawk at 11:05 AM on October 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm going to take the other side a bit here.

However your budget is covered, and you are otherwise satisfied, for six figure earners at a for-profit company, a 3.6% annual raise in October 2021 means at least one of three things, none of them good:

* You are doing poorly

* The company is doing poorly

* The company culture permits them to attempt to strangle compensation to boost earnings, and there will be far worse to come if things ever got hairy

I run a moderate-sized firm and a lot of my friends do ditto. We all like our people, but don't think of our payroll as anything like a charity. None of us would dare these days to do a 3.6% raise to a well-performing employee and expect him to do anything but start working on his resume.
posted by MattD at 11:05 AM on October 25, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: If you have any feedback or tips about the feeling of backwards progress, that's the advice I'm looking for.

Others have discussed the philosophical side of things. From a practical point of view, my anecdotal experience of myself and of everyone I know well enough to know about their career details, has been a pattern of a number of years of more or less rate of inflation increases (sometimes much less), followed by a large step from a change in jobs, promotion, merit increase, etc. I've never had a job where year after year I reliably got both solid cost of living and merit increases (and hence, I've changed jobs a few times -- failing to give both cost of living and merit increases is not how you retain people).

So in the big picture financially, although this year you didn't keep up with inflation, it's more of a question of how you are doing over a five or ten year span that matters. It's ok to drift somewhat behind for a couple of years and then catch up later, over and above the philosophical side of things.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:08 AM on October 25, 2021 [7 favorites]

You're thinking about it just fine. Considering where inflation might go, your salary very well could have less spending power this year than it did last year.

I think time will take the sting out, and you can decide if, all things being equal, you're better off than an alternative (new job). Your company thinks that you'll stick with the devil you know. There's nothing wrong with taking a look around. There's also nothing wrong with a shrug and an acceptance mindset.

We live in capitalism, and stepping off the rat wheel won't stop it. Some of us work the wheel for a paycheck and try to influence the world in other ways.

Congrats on being good at the wheel.

The rest of you shamers: leave them be until they start complaining about the cost of helicopter landing fees or that the help crashed the little boat that takes them out to their big boat. Get your eyes back on the ball!
posted by everythings_interrelated at 11:08 AM on October 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

I think this is a case of people answering the question they hope you're asking, versus the question you are asking. I myself did this. To make more money, you will need to get a new job.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:09 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Perhaps because I am poor, I do not believe people should be continually percentage-wise compensated up and up and up. After a certain amount, you are good. It's would be obscene to keep giving large raises to the well off.

Why worry about "backwards progress?" You have reached your goal. You will retire. Early. You do not worry about money. That alone easily puts you in the top percent of people in the world.

I am not trying to be rude when I say that looking into books and programs that help people practice gratitude might help you.
posted by tiny frying pan at 11:19 AM on October 25, 2021 [10 favorites]

How to come to peace? You start looking for a new job, immediately. Either you decide along the way that it isn’t worth it to jump ship, or you find a better position, or you get another offer and negotiate for more money at your current job.

You seem like a practical, action-oriented person. I get it - I’m the same. There are long term things that can be done to help about these feelings, but therapy/mindfulness/meditation are not immediate fixes, and may not really help the root cause. So the only solution I’ve found is to take immediate action and look for other positions, and then decisions become clear.
posted by umwhat at 11:22 AM on October 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

There isn't some natural level of compensation with which you should be satisfied - especially if you work for a for-profit entity. It sounds like you really like it there, but feel unsatisfied with comp. The only way to not be unsatisfied with comp is to look around and determine "Yep I'm reasonably paid" or "Nope I'm underpaid but the other places have much worse cultures/lifestyle than my current place" or "I'm underpaid and need to look for a job"
If its the last you should come back here and ask us how to underwrite a firms culture as part of the job search because that sounds like what you are nervous about. In the current job market if your employers feelings are mutual you will probably get bought back should you choose to be.
posted by JPD at 11:23 AM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not exactly the same because I make way less money than you do but I do understand the pain and frustration of feeling like you're moving backwards -- I switched departments and got a pretty significant raise at my current company and I still make less than I did the last place I worked and it feels crummy, even as I know I am MUCH HAPPIER where I am now. I just feel like I'm less worthy because I earn less money even though I know it's bullshit. I don't have much to suggest other than trying to decouple your personal feelings of worth from the value you provide to capital (and therapy's almost never a bad idea) but I wanted to let you know you're not alone in feeling this way even if it's illogical. We're all caught up in a shitty system and this stuff is ingrained pretty deeply and it's hard to shift that thinking.
posted by an octopus IRL at 11:31 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

Are you anxious about your future at the company? It’s easy to look at numbers and berate yourself for being greedy, but do the low (maybe not even COL) raises indicate that the company isn’t healthy? That you don’t have enough room to grow there? Is it telling you something else about the culture (or your own ambitions) that’s easier to hide away under “oh I’m just being selfish”? Do you crave a different kind of responsibility or status? (Next step is to question why and if it’s in line with your values or just the culture around you.)

If not, I would comfort myself with the idea that once the lack of significant raises/growth opportunities is actually making me stagnant, I can look for work elsewhere. This can be a 2-4 year gig, it doesn’t have to be a 10 year one. Looking at it on a longer scale might help you count your blessings in your current position while also keeping an eye out for the next thing, reducing the claustrophobia. You’re doing great where you are, but in 5 years “where you are” will be different.

It’s tempting to look for the perfect Forever Job but those rarely exist; it’s OK to know you’ll want something else (different, or bigger, or better) eventually.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:39 AM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A few facts:

1. The company did extremely well through the pandemic. It's fortune 500 - it's huge. A LOT of employees are unhappy about the bad raises.
2. The company has really high job security. They generally don't fire people, they wait for people to leave. Because they are such a big name, they can afford to do that.
3. I'm not really looking to make waves, or search for another job. What I'd like to do is make peace with my current situation. It will likely continue into the future... and I'll be financially fine with it. If I were to look for another job, I'm sure I could get one almost immediately, for more money. But, I really like the culture and security. But, that doesn't mean that the gremlin in my head doesn't still make me feel bad.

I marked some best answers but I'll continue to read! I appreciate people with a similar worry/struggle. I appreciate thoughts about disassociating the benefits I get from money vs other things. I appreciate that I'm not alone.
posted by bbqturtle at 11:43 AM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: By the way, thanks so much for this advice:

From a practical point of view, my anecdotal experience of myself and of everyone I know well enough to know about their career details, has been a pattern of a number of years of more or less rate of inflation increases (sometimes much less), followed by a large step from a change in jobs, promotion, merit increase, etc. I've never had a job where year after year I reliably got both solid cost of living and merit increases (and hence, I've changed jobs a few times -- failing to give both cost of living and merit increases is not how you retain people).

So in the big picture financially, although this year you didn't keep up with inflation, it's more of a question of how you are doing over a five or ten year span that matters. It's ok to drift somewhat behind for a couple of years and then catch up later, over and above the philosophical side of things.

I think this is the perspective that will help me have a path forward. Truly, truly appreciated.
posted by bbqturtle at 11:44 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

A few perspectives:
"Inflation, depending on how you measure it, is incredibly high." is wrong, so 3.64% is actually higher than inflation. Inflation is felt in a few different products, some higher than 3.64%, but many lower since it represents an aggregate value.

If it were generally higher than that, then tons of your co-workers would be leaving for other jobs and your company would have been hurt during the pandemic.

So I think you need to get your head out of the news and closer to real life.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:52 AM on October 25, 2021

Response by poster: @The_vegetables: Is there a better measure than the CPI? Looks like the CPI is up roughly 5% vs YA.
posted by bbqturtle at 11:54 AM on October 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am highly aware of the ways that employers will typically try to get away with undervaluing their employees, which makes me feel resentful. Thinking about the fact that others are undervalued or exploited by their employers does little to alleviate the resentment.

Hey I'm not telling you not to be angry or disappointed or resentful. You should be all of those things. I'm just suggesting that you take that anger and turn it on its proper target, which is not Yourself. Mad that even incredible wealth can't insulate you from your employer taking you for a ride? Time to start funneling some of that incredible wealth into progressive causes. Like helping workplaces unionize so they can get good raises written into their contracts.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:00 PM on October 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have had years with no raise. I am in higher education, so it's not a big surprise -- but I work in IT, and I could definitely be making more elsewhere.

Here's how my wife & I framed it: I have great benefits (a ton of time off, good health insurance, amazing tuition benefits for all my kids, and some fantastic co-workers, and an easy commute); many people actually lost their jobs in those years; and I make good money, so maybe this is the world catching up with me. That helped me be at peace with my financial situation -- which I had to do, because I had no way to force my employer to pay me more. :7)

Now, your point about inflation making your income go backwards this year is true, in an objective sense. My family lives well within our income, so this didn't cause us any real trouble -- just some ache of "Why me?!" And I suspect that ache is what you're feeling: a lot of societal inputs are tied to income or SES, and it's natural to equate a failure to advance with regression.

At a certain point, a lot of people stop getting huge, frequent raises. (Unless you're in finance...) Maybe you're approaching that point?

When I think of the benefits that I do have, which others do not, it helps me push away that frustration. Good luck: being told to be humble is Mature and whatnot, while your feelings can still hurt.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:14 PM on October 25, 2021 [6 favorites]

Do you see in that chart that as of March 2021 (6 months ago) that it was at 2%? Did you just get a raise this month? Check back next year.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:22 PM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

The problem (in my head) is that I'm earning less than I did in the past, and with inflation, less than I did a year ago.

Eh, I'm going to push back and say that's not actually the problem, because there are millions of people in the same boat as you, who also make way less money, who are not so hung up on the % of their salary increase from year to year. And according this calculator, you're in the top 10%. If you made 5k more, you'd still be in the top 10%. So, really not that different - why does that difference actually matter to you? It sounds like you're comparing your prosperity to that of a Fortune 500 company, which is a great way to feel like a loser. But you don't have to play that game.

How's things in your life otherwise? Do you think you'd be so upset if the last 20 months or so hadn't been generally shitty? When's the last time you got to truly unplug from the day-to-day worries of life?
posted by coffeecat at 1:22 PM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I suspect that, like most people mired in late-stage Capitalism, this is entirely about you measuring your value as a person by the $$$ somebody else gives you. It's a trap many of us fall into. You're already successful - you have won the Game of Work, at least for now! You're allowed to be happy without having ever-increasing amounts of cash applied to your face.

It's entirely possible that to win a higher percentage increase at this job would take an effort on a level that would make you less happy as a person. Maybe you'd have to work longer hours or devote more mental real estate to your job or in some other way subtract from life to add to work. If you're happy where you are, and not in danger of being fired, just be happy.
posted by invincible summer at 1:30 PM on October 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

If your raise (as a percentage) was closer to. 5% last year, perhaps you could choose to believe your company is basing raises on expected inflation and you actually got the necessary raise early. Your 3 and change is in line with expectations for the next year.
posted by wierdo at 1:35 PM on October 25, 2021

Best answer: Once you’re past a certain salary point / quality of life point, as you are and as I am, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to keep thinking about your paycheck vs. your overall work situation. I don’t know how to teach you to rewire yourself away from the salary-chasing frame of mind, but for whatever it’s worth I can assure you it is possible to take that step back. I found it pretty easy to do when my paycheck hit a certain level. I hope you can find a way to do it.

If I made a list of things that keep me content at my current job, salary wouldn’t top the list, and I wouldn’t trade* more money for the things that do. A few thousand more bucks a year would not be worth losing a work culture I like, that takes the pandemic seriously, supporting a mission I care about, where I’m given a great deal of respect and autonomy. Do you have a sense of what your list is? Would it help to literally make that physical list and refer back to it when you get to feeling down about your salary?

*within reason, I suppose if someone wants to give me a million bucks a year I will go ahead and put up with annoying coworkers and find my joy in using that money to improve my loved ones’ lives instead
posted by Stacey at 1:48 PM on October 25, 2021 [9 favorites]

At my workplace, full of PhDs making slightly smaller salaries, 3% is pretty much the maximum one could ever expect in any year. It's been two years since we've seen anything close to it, including people who've recently won prestigious international awards. Getting a raise of any kind this year is pretty good. And it's a lot less useful than other, more public professional recognition. If you more or less like your job and are solidly in the global 1%, you're doing great. (Which doesn't mean you shouldn't agitate for better.) My snarky, possibly obnoxious advice is to find something more critical to obsess over.
posted by eotvos at 1:56 PM on October 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: > Something deep, encoded inside of me, still feels like I've made negative progress over time.

Know how you feel. The most actionable time to articulate this feeling is when you're negotiating a job offer inside the broader game of the labor market, outside of the artificial game of internal company performance review cycles.

Anecdote -- the only time I've ever got a decent raise (9% atop a perfectly agreeable base) without changing jobs, after working long frustrating hours starting to burn out trying to get a project delivered, my immediate gut reaction to seeing the raise was "it's not worth it" -- the incremental gain in salary was not worth the decrease in quality of life due to stress from work starting to escape and impact life outside work. Brains are funny things, burned-out brains especially so. "Happiness equals reality divided by expectations".

Your personal finances are in a very healthy situation -- so maybe the next question to ask is, now that finances are not a critical problem to solve, what non-financial goals or changes in your day to day life would you like? The answer could be things like "more free time to spend with family / friends / hobbies" or "more autonomy in my work" or "more opportunities to learn" or "less stress". What if you reduced the numbers of days you work? Less money - more life. Purely in a work context, there are many other things that could be negotiated: what if you made a lateral move onto a different project or team that you're more interested in? Are there any temporary roles where you could be "acting grand vizier of teapots" and get experience operating one rung up the ladder? What if your work supported your career by sending you to professional conferences / training?

It might even be the case that simply changing something makes you happier by being able to exercise some agency.
posted by are-coral-made at 3:03 PM on October 25, 2021

Best answer: >1. The company did extremely well through the pandemic. It's fortune 500 - it's huge. A LOT of employees are unhappy about the bad raises.

FWIW spouse worked for a similar company (Fortune 5 if memory serves) and every year they would get on the company wide meetings and rave about how profitable the company - and particularly, her division - was, by how far they had exceeded their goals, the double-digit growth and etc.

Then along would come raise time and it was generally about 2%. Losing ground to inflation, as you say.

As far as employee evaluations she was always in the top 50% and mostly in the top 25% though perhaps not in the top 5% (Fact: Not every one of you employees can be in the top 5%).


#1. This is definitely a systemic problem - an essential problem in our economy

#2. This definitely had large ramifications for workforce morale and turnover. The huge difference between announced company earnings, growth, stock price, etc and then the miniscule raises everyone received was very obvious and very demoralizing to everyone who worked there. The bigwigs (who WERE getting raises and bonuses commensurate with and almost certainly even larger than company growth) didn't seem to care.

#3. I just did a little calculation on this company because I happen to know their current number of employees and annual profit and if they were to share that profit even 50/50 with employees they could give every employee a $45,000 raise (or bonus, I suppose).

#4. Spouse is no longer working for that company due to burnout and yeah, the miniscule/backwards moving raises are a big reason why. P.S. Company managers: You don't even have to pay out (at least not everything) in dollars. Like a 5-10% increase in vacation time each year costs you nothing in hard dollars, earns a ton of cred with employees, and prevents burnout like nothing doing.
posted by flug at 3:42 PM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Look into how much good you can do with that 3% and donate it to worthy causes
posted by Jacen at 4:06 PM on October 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

In most jobs, unless you're very actively working to climb positions internally or jumping from company to company, you're only going to get cost of living raises year to year. It's dumb but that's the way of the world. I've stuck it out in similar positions because work didn't get in the way of my life and I enjoyed who I was working with and what I did and jumping to another company that might have paid more but couldn't guarantee the same things wasn't worth the risk.

At your age with 15 years to go, unless you're actively advocating for yourself, you probably have one to two big raises left in your career. If the thought of that bums you out, you need to think of how to argue for career progression.
posted by Candleman at 5:11 PM on October 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

I think it might help to think about the long term... aka retirement savings. As long as you are paying yourself first, and your long term savings are on track, the rest of your income is just icing on the cake. Or in other words, your income is (hopefully) like the stock market... it may have its ups and downs but in the long run, things are moving in the positive direction.

For your consideration, you might want to see if there is an expense that you can cut back on, so that your net income will effectively increase.
posted by oceano at 6:34 PM on October 25, 2021

Best answer: I work at another huge company that did very well during the pandemic and comp letters haven't come out yet but they are already telegraphing that we're likely to find them disappointing because our company leadership "believes the current inflationary situation is transient." There is a lot of grumbling about it because, come on. We're doing f*cking great. WE did that. We should get a bigger piece. I think it's totally normal to feel bitter when you come out of an earnings call like "wow what a great year" then get told f*ck you, you peons don't deserve to keep up with inflation when it comes time to pay you.

But ultimately, I actually like the work I do and when I'm not thinking about the executives getting rich off my late nights I honestly can't believe I'm paid what I am. I have made a lot of lateral moves over the years rather than chasing promotions, sometimes good sometimes bad, have worked on a wild variety of things and have some amazing stories to tell. I now work with people I genuinely like, doing work I enjoy and am good at. I have been on teams that weren't such good fits, and tell you what, moving to my current team was the biggest compensation boost I ever got in my life and they didn't give me a dime extra.

And big +1 that in the "mid-career" phase of your career, you have to make your peace with going longer between big salary bumps. In the first 5 years of my career my salary doubled too. Now I am getting raises in the 2-3% range a lot of the time unless I get promoted. Ultimately I have colleagues who are doing much better but I am putting a lot of my points into parenthood right now.
posted by potrzebie at 10:21 PM on October 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A lot of good advice towards the end of the thread here.

One thing I didn't see in my scan was that a lot of large companies only offer COL raises (usually around 3%) unless there's a promotion. For example, I'm in a senior-ish position at my company with no real next role to move to, so I've been getting a 3% raise (plus discretionary bonus) every year since I've been here. I actually consider this quite generous - I previously worked in investment banking (administrative role) and there were no raises ever unless you got promoted (though the bonuses were large in good years).

Don't worry about making less than last year. I took a huge paycut when I left investment banking because I just couldn't deal with the work life balance anymore, and it was the best thing I ever did. And it took a few years, but surprisingly my total comp is now better than what I left (though nowhere near where it would be if I had stayed). Save your money and watch your investments grow, savor your enjoyable job (I'm envious, I'm unhappy in mine and looking to leave), and know that it can all go away at any moment for any number of reasons, so be appreciative of what you have.
posted by widdershins at 6:44 AM on October 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

I think you've gotten lots of great advice in this thread. I agree with pretty much all of it from the various perspectives, and I am going to offer a perspective that I don't think has been mentioned.

One of the things that seems to bother you is that your raise is lower than inflation. I would suggest that you really look at your finances in a more granular way if that actually bothers you. What of your monthly costs are affected by inflation? My biggest expenses in order are: mortgage (fixed), food (affected by inflation), health insurance for two dependents (amazingly has not gone up in three years!), two car payments (fixed), utilities (varies by our use, but fixed), miscellaneous household expenses (affected by inflation). So, in my budget, only about 40% (or less) of it is affected by inflation.

So, let's make the math simple. Say I get $100 each month. I spend $60 each month (that's a very rough approximation of how you describe your financial situation). Half of what I spend is affected by inflation. If I get a 3% raise and inflation is 6%, then I go up to $103 each month and now have to spend $61.80 each month. I would be coming out ahead even if inflation is double my raise.

There are other compounding factors here - if your income goes up, maybe your 401k contributions have gone up, too, which could further outpace inflation.

My overall suggestion is that sometimes in life we can really stress ourselves out about things that we are actually only thinking about in broad strokes, or even vaguely, and it helps to get really specific about how exactly the issue impacts us. Others have made suggestions about careers, but I think you could also get more specific about how the raise and inflation are financially impacting you.
posted by Tchozz at 8:06 AM on October 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

In addition to what I wrote previously, I'd add that your experience and feelings are widely shared (for example, raises at my company are expected to be in that same range this year, despite phenomenal growth and earnings), and are a part of what is driving the "great resignation" of people quitting and looking for new work. At the low end of the salary scale it is people refusing to work for unacceptable wages and dangerous conditions; at higher salaries people are recognizing that staying in place often doesn't result in the same financial or other rewards that come from switching.

I'm not suggesting that you start looking for a new job (unless you want to!), but just that it is good to recognize that this is a broad phenomenon and is contributing to the headlines we are all seeing. Theoretically companies should be increasing salaries and benefits to hire and retain staff, but many are not yet feeling compelled to do so.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:27 PM on October 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

Another person saying that 3% is an absolutely normal raise. The only folks I know who got more than 2 to 3% regularly outside of promotions were the ones who were both significantly undercompensated for their pay grade and considered attrition / flight risks.
posted by Lady Li at 11:09 PM on October 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

But, I think the main thing is to give yourself another metric. Right now you're looking for ways to know if you're doing well or not, and the metric you get is this number, and there are plenty of forces in our society that want to tell you the bigger that number is the more valuable / important / happy / good you are. And even if it weren't for all those forces, the number is right there and it says performance right there next to it!

So give yourself some other goals. Learn to play piano, or ride a bike, or run a marathon. Knit a sweater. Build a relationship with a cousin or a neighbor or a stranger. Start a habit of doing kind things for the people in your life, unsolicited.

What is it that you want to do when you retire at 45? Start doing that and making that your goal.
posted by Lady Li at 11:12 PM on October 26, 2021

If it makes you feel better, I’ve only ever worked in either unionized environments where everyone in scope got the same 1.5% annual, cost of living raise, no matter their contributions or achievements that year, or in environments where there was a multiple years long freeze on all raises due to under-funding/budgetary reasons. To the extent that people are making the same amount of money now that they were before the first “once in a lifetime” financial crash…13 years ago.

And I make much, much less than you do. I do not consider your salary “low” by any possible definition of that word. For anecdotal context: I can count on one hand the amount of people I know personally who make as much as you do. You’re doing really, really well in life. There’s no need to feel behind.
posted by oywiththepoodles at 10:14 PM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Your company is doing nothing except operating in the system of capitalism. you said yourself, turnover is low. The company doesn't care at all about if you leave, they only care about over-all turnover numbers. You better believe that if turnover went up 10%, the company might choose to invest in payroll. But more likely, they would invest in consultants who would sell them some apps that promise to affect turnover, without actually.

YES, you are going backwards. That is the way that jumbo companies work. I just read a reddit post about someone who was fighting with their boss, who hired new employees for more money than the existing employee was earning. Hell, my first job at Old Country Buffet paid me $6/hr, when my "supervisor" was only earning $5.10/hr. You have the golden handcuffs, and the company knows that.

Asking the machine to care about you is the wrong perspective. YOU care about you, by staking yourself to higher and higher incomes as you change jobs. But, within a job, never expect a raise higher than cost of living, unless it's at a pretty sweet gig.
posted by rebent at 11:08 AM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

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