How do I advocate for myself with my supervisor?
March 2, 2023 3:06 PM   Subscribe

How do I push for more pay and more future certainty from my current employer, given a job offer I'm probably not going to take?

I left a long-term underpaid position in a specialized part of higher education about two years ago. The move was a lateral change to an tech company. I was okay for the opportunity to learn more about the industry and potentially prove myself to create other opportunities.

In retrospect, the position I moved into has a weird title and weird overlapping set of job duties so it's not really a clear match to positions in other tech companies. On a week to week basis, my job duties vary: I'm doing work across development (similar to a product owner and/or product manager), helping with support issues, creating marketing materials that require deep field experience, creating/doing sales demos, and doing high profile announcement webinars for new products that I'm told are key to the company future. I have a wide skillset and just finished a PhD in an applicable field, and much of the work I've been drawn into doing would be duties for positions that in some cases make double what I'm paid, except there's been turnover that means those areas are short-staffed. In short, I'm sure that at my current pay, I'm a great deal for the company.

I've brought this up numerous times with my supervisor, but it has so far gone nowhere. He is a generally nice person, but I have not seen him go to bat for his reports. He acknowledges that I am doing work well outside of my job duties and frequently working long extra hours due to understaffing, and so deserve higher pay. But there's been a series of reasons why I can't get a raise - initially it was no mid-year raises regardless of changes to job duties. Then he was going to look into it because, instead of real reviews, they gave us all insulting across-the-board pay raises that are nowhere near inflation, but oh, no, now is not the right time due to some upper level changes. Now we're in the middle of restructuring involving some long-term employees having been fired for unclear reasons, new hiring, and promises that we are the chosen ones to remain for the brighter future. Supposedly, this will mean good things for our titles/pay and more hiring will help with workloads but details have been entirely a matter of implication, with no solid promises made. The timeframe for finding out specifics has repeatedly slipped, with sometime this spring being the current best promise.

Today, I received a job offer from my old institution that would be a slight pay increase. Unfortunately, the job duties for the position shifted between when the job was posted and when I interviewed, which made the less position less desirable for me. Also, the position is in-person, and I've discovered that I really like working from home. And, like higher education everywhere, budget cuts make the prospect of taking a position there more tenuous than it would have felt in the past. For those reasons, I took the night to think about it but I am planning to turn the position down tomorrow.

Three other pieces of context: Last summer, I turned down a position at a local company that offered half again more than my current pay, partially because of timing for finishing my degree and partially because I didn't like the vibe I got from the supervisor. I also recently interviewed for a position at another private company, one that I am an excellent fit for, had glowing feedback in the interview, and that would be a slightly higher pay raise. But I would need to make it through another round of interviews before a potential offer, so I'm also not holding my breath. And third, if needed, I could quit my current job and my SO and I could make it work for me to not work for a while (years, if needed), though I'm not sure that'd be good for my mental health either.

My question is whether to bring this up to my supervisor again. As I see it there are three options:

1. Remain silent, turn down this job, and just keep applying for things. If I get an offer with genuinely higher pay, either see if that leverages to any specific offer from current company or skip out with bells on. This makes it slightly less awkward to occasionally block off a long lunch for interviews.

2. Bring up the offer I have now as if I'm undecided about taking it, and see if I can get either a raise in place for the interim or a more solid promise about what will happen in a few months. The issue there is that this would be a fake threat, and I'm not planning on following through.

3. Bring up the offer I have now with statement that I'm not planning on taking it, but that I am applying elsewhere and will take another position should comes up. This will likely cause my supervisor to have a bit of a panic because there is some new product knowledge that, in spite of my extensive documentation, is considered to be only held by me, and I'm juggling a lot of work that there isn't really anyone else to do. I don't know if this could result in an interim pay increase, any more solid promises, or just a bunch of emotional awkwardness.

What are the pros and cons of these options? Or are there other options that I should consider?
posted by past unusual to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I vote for #1, partially. Your boss/company has already showed you that they don't value you enough to pay you more -- you've brought it up numerous times, they haven't acted, and in fact they gave the entire team insulting raises. So by all means keep searching, and when you find a great new job, don't even try to leverage that at your current job. What could you possibly get? Maybe more money right now, but then you'd still be working with these guys in another year when you'd want another raise. By your own description these guys suck -- inadequate pay, long-term people fired for unclear reasons? Put all your energy into moving along into the right job.

#2 is useless. They already know you want more money and they're not giving it to you.
#3...yeah, why bring the emotional weirdness down on yourself?
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:36 PM on March 2 [5 favorites]

3: I think, will result in your manager asking you to take that documentation and turn it into training. More work for you at the same pay.

2: Is pointless because it's toothless, and they know it. Again, more cons that pros. Probably also more work for you at the same pay but without the awkward "is the other shoe gonna drop" aspect.

1, well.... maybe I missed it, but do you like your job? A lot of your question is around money, but it's clear you prioritize other things like working remotely and certain job responsibilities. Is your current job giving you both of those things?

Personally, I'm not optimistic that your current company would counter satisfactorily, anyway -- either they can't, or they won't, or they will but the cost to you will be higher than desirable (back to the points above of "more work for you").

I am also voting for option 1 but with the intention to actually leave. Since you aren't desperate (yet), you're in a great position to really find and/or advocate for what you want and deserve with an employer who can actually deliver.
posted by sm1tten at 3:58 PM on March 2 [4 favorites]

He acknowledges that I am doing work well outside of my job duties and frequently working long extra hours due to understaffing, and so deserve higher pay.
In the meantime, stop doing this. Give them what they pay for, and quit volunteering. At a place where you're treated with respect, sure it's great to really put your shoulder to the wheel in exigent circumstances, but it doesn't make sense as a way of life.
posted by kate4914 at 4:15 PM on March 2 [8 favorites]

I agree with the suggestions to go for #1 and plan on taking the first good offer you get. If you come to them with an outside offer, they will very likely give you a counter offer, but as was said above, a year from now you'll be back in the same position. Unless your internal counter offer involved you moving to an entirely different division that did a better job of valuing employees, I think you would be making a serious mistake to stay where you are.

Within limits, dial down the freebies (like extra unpaid hours) that you have been giving them, but probably you will do best to keep providing some of that so that you stay in reasonably good graces long enough to find a new job.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:44 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]

Yes, the problem with bluffing (option 2) is that sometimes your bluff get's called, and that can really back fire.

You might try a slightly more indirect version of #3 - though this is perhaps harder given you work remotely - but if you tell co-workers you're getting interviews/job offers, then that info might get back to your manager, and they might decide it's worth prioritizing giving you a raise. Or not. But otherwise, I think #1 seems best - clearly, you're competitive given the number of interview/offers you've had lately.
posted by coffeecat at 4:57 PM on March 2

Response by poster: Thank you all for your kindness and the thoughtful responses. I'm reading them and taking them to heart.

In terms of my career, I think that the work is meaningful and worthwhile in the larger higher ed mission-driven sense. The work I did when working in higher ed made a difference for my students, and the work I'm doing now is, within the limitations of the time and resources, directly helping that work for other professionals. Am I the only person that can do this work? No, certainly not. But I am in a unique place to do work that makes an indirect difference right now, which is why I've stuck it out so far.

But also, even for higher ed, this general field is stressful and notoriously underpaid. Unfortunately, I seem to have built up a skillset of being great at keeping many plates spinning amid high pressure competing priorities and limited resources, and extra unfortunately, I'm finding that private industry is just as happy to underpay for that as higher ed. If it seemed like there were many options in this stage of capitalism to find a job that was lower stress for the same level of middling pay (or even a little less), I'd be interested. But if I'm going to be doing work that requires specialized knowledge and expands well above the stated job duties for a specified pay, then I feel like I need to start advocating for myself to paid accordingly.

I hope that helps to clarify. Thank you again for all of your kind responses.
posted by past unusual at 5:14 PM on March 2 [1 favorite]

Reading (and possibly posting) on Ask a Manager might be useful to you.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:57 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you are getting interviews, so I say just stick with looking around and the right thing with the right pay will fall into place. When it does, LEAVE. Don't try to leverage a better deal at your current place. A lot of employers won't do this on principal.

You might try a slightly more indirect version of #3 - though this is perhaps harder given you work remotely - but if you tell co-workers you're getting interviews/job offers, then that info might get back to your manager, and they might decide it's worth prioritizing giving you a raise.

This happened to me, from the manager side. A director colleague mentioned to me that one of my direct reports asked him to be a reference for a job application. I knew this employee wanted (and frankly deserved) some changes to his role (not just pay). Hearing that he was actively looking lit a fire under me and my VP to get those changes made. I never told the employee that I heard he was looking for a job; I framed the changes as recognition of his value to the organization. Hard to predict if this would work where you are. This employee had a highly unique and difficult to recruit skillset and background.
posted by jeoc at 7:13 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]

You may already know this but the people I have known that have odd, cross-discipline skill sets usually do best by networking into their next job. My guess is that there is someone out there who would look at your resume and think "I had no idea I could find someone with that mix of skills" and be delighted to hire them. But you need to make a personal connection (or, more likely, a friend of a friend connection) both to help them really appreciate the strengths of your resume and to get them thinking how they might use someone like you. So, maybe cut back just a little on your hours and invest the time into actively building a job search network that can connect to the job that is really the right match for you.
posted by metahawk at 8:39 PM on March 2 [7 favorites]

It seems to me that the absolutely most obvious thing to do is ask your supervisor what your chances are for a raise in the near future, point out that you do good work, and explain that you've had another offer. Why wouldn't you do this? Employment is a competitive thing, and you need to let him know that he's competing with other employers. You don't owe him any favors, and you certainly don't owe it to him to spare his feelings. Keeping an employer on his toes benefits everyone. Sucking it up and being quiet benefits your employer, and most definitely not you.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 9:48 PM on March 2

I agree with folks that number 1 is best, except just leave this job when you get a better offer. You've given your supervisor plenty of warning that your pay is an issue.

Also, definitely don't bluff with number 2. I once had a coworker who got into a habit of saying, "If such and such doesn't change, I might look for another job," and it was disruptive and annoying and someone finally told her to knock it off. It was a false threat. Every time you talk about leaving and then don't, you lose credibility.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:31 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]

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