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Should I ask for a raise one more time?

In the July 28, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader has been waiting eight years for a raise while doing loads more work.

Question

I’m a gigantic fan who recommends Ask The Headhunter to everyone I meet. So thank you. I have a question, and if it doesn’t work for the newsletter, then I’d be good with a Talk to Nick session.

shrug-no-raiseI’ve been at my job eight years. With inflation, I make about what I made in 2007. My job responsibilities have grown enormously, and I have delivered tremendous, demonstrable value. My boss and his VP agree that I’m dramatically underpaid, and they “wish” they could do more, but you know, HR is horrible, I’m at the top of the pay band, and so on.

For a few years, I’ve sweated it out because frankly I like the place, and I get to spend more time with my kids than I would at a job where I was paid fairly. The kids are priority #1, so I don’t mind making less.

It’s a small company, and there’s not much room for growth. But I’m doing a job now that is quite different from my job title, and one that doesn’t exist here. I had a very ATH conversation with our CIO (my VP’s boss) in February, and it went quite well. He said he was going to see what he could do with HR. Then he got replaced after 32 years.

The new guy seems really talented, and sharp. But my dilemma is, how do I approach him to deliver the same sort of info I already told my CIO? I’d like to let him know that I’m doing a much more important job, while being paid for a lesser job.

My bosses are not going to advocate for me. That’s just the way it is, and has been since the beginning. So I have to do it myself.

I guess I just don’t know how to approach a guy who has been here for two months, and tell him how awesome I am, and that he needs to recognize my value. It’s like an interview, but not really. Your advice is appreciated. Thanks for all you do.

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words — I’m glad you enjoy ATH! You might expect I’m going to recommend some magic negotiating method, but I don’t think you should negotiate for a better salary. (If I did, I might suggest something from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire.)

I think you should leave.

There’s an old joke: A cynical out-of-towner steps out of New York City’s Penn Station onto 34th Street and asks a passerby, “Can you tell me how to get to Lincoln Center, or should I just go F myself?”

I’m afraid all you’re doing is asking to be told to go F yourself. You’re very close to this because you’ve been there so long. If you step back, you might see this differently and a lot more simply. We tend to make excuses for people — especially our employers. I think the signs are that you need to move on.

Consider the facts you’ve shared:

  1. Your pay has not gone up in 8 years.
  2. You’re doing lots more work that has effectively increased your employer’s “pay.”
  3. Your management acknowledges all this.
  4. Your management has clearly told you they’re not going to pay you more. Worse, they blame it on HR, which after all works for management!
  5. Your bosses are not going to advocate for you. (See 4.)
  6. There’s not much room for growth.

Even if the new CIO is a great guy, he’s not likely to buck the company line. (See 5.) Even if he does, and you pull this off, (6.) tells me you’re just stalling the inevitable — unless you just want to make like a tree and take root for life. (See Should I take a big counter-offer?)

I respect that you put family at #1. That’s got nothing to do with how these people are paying you while you help generate more profits for them. It’s possible to keep doing your current work, keep family at #1, and make more money. But it’s not permitted. It seems they’ve made it clear they’re not going to pay you more.

Do you see what I see? I’m not saying jump to another company where you’ll earn more in exchange for making your family #2. I’m saying start looking for employers who value the kind of work you do and who will pay for it. Nothing is stopping you from conducting a well-paced, savvy job search. Worst case, you won’t find what you want. My guess is, you will.

I think you’re making excuses for managers who aren’t doing right by you. The new guy is not likely to rock the boat or buck your own boss.

If you go talk to the new guy anyway — and start a search at the same time — be careful. If all the managers put their heads together and realize your comp is such an issue, you may become a marked man. My guess, though, is they’re too lazy and complacent to worry about it.

Management like that just waits it out. When under-paid employees finally quit, the company just hires new ones for even less. It’s a sad commentary on how some companies are run.

“My bosses are not going to advocate for me. That’s just the way it is, and has been since the beginning.”

That tells me pretty much everything I need to know. In a healthy company, bosses advocate for their best people. They don’t resort to excuses. But what cinches this in my mind is, they’ve never thrown you a bone in eight years. That’s a bad sign. If there’s some indication that the new guy might be helpful, I just don’t see it. You’d need to explain that.

pc-cover1-211x275In a “talent shortage” like employers complain about today, the best talent gets hired. Why not start looking at yourself that way?

I’d be happy to schedule a Talk to Nick with you, but I’m not sure what more I could tell you — except to flesh out how to handle this new CIO. (You’d spend less learning about Parting Company properly. In fact, I’ll give you 25% OFF if you buy Parting Company this week! Discount code=SAVE25) The real question is, why do you think the new CIO is going to make any difference to you? Just because he’s smart does not mean he’s going to buck the rest of management. In fact, it suggests he won’t.

I believe in negotiating, as long as you’re talking with someone who is negotiable. If they’re not, then don’t beat your head against a wall. If anything I’ve said is helpful, I’m glad. Sorry if it’s such a downer, but I call them like I see them.

Would you keep negotiating with this employer? Is there an opportunity here for a salary increase that I’ve missed? What would you do in this reader’s shoes?

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25 Comments
  1. Ask for a raise? NO WAY.

    You’re in a seductive trap, and being taken advantage of. Use your discomfort to energize your search, and start now.

    If it’s the small fishbowl you describe, and they recently dumped a guy who had been there 32 years, who is to say they won’t dump you, when it suits them?

    Plus, the new CIO may have a buddy who needs a job…and suddenly you’ll be cannon fodder.
    They’ll find or make a reason to justify it, if they wish to.

    So keep your head down, do your job, and remember that family is #1. You owe it to them to make sure you’re in a secure position, regardless of the compensation.

  2. I work at a place that is much the same. I see how staff is limited so I say is time to move on. You have been there eight years, don’t stay another few years and then have such long and underpaid tenure that no one will hire you in a move up position. Loyalty is no longer rewarded, rather it’s now seen as lazy or stupid by other employers.

  3. Start your job search. Do not ask for a raise, which will make you more visible to management as a replaceable troublemaker. Take your talents where they will be appreciated.

  4. This writer answered all his/her own questions, she’s just afraid to see the 8 yr old writing on the wall.

    I say go get that other job that values your loyalty, skills and commitment and, instead of walking in for a raise, walk in with that letter of resignation.

    No need for exit interview either, your current employers know why you’re leaving — they’ve been expecting it for at least seven years.

    Fair winds to you!

  5. I was in the exact same position. After 8 years I looked around and noticed my loyalty was meaningless, my pay was low and my company hired new inexperienced workers at their whim. I asked for a raise and a better title and got the “HR” excuses. I decided to look for another job about a year before a quit. Staying at one company for eight years and not progressing makes you look lazy even though you’ve been busting your butt for them. You aren’t getting any of the credit. I decided to go ahead and resign one day. I had no other job, just the knowledge that the market was looking for talent and I was hungry for a new position. I had been networking already and preparing myself. I had so many interviews and “no thanks”. But I found another job at a huge company in less than two weeks after I resigned. Take your talents where they will be appreciated.

  6. I totally agree with Nick. I was in the same situation. In fact, I felt very obligated to stay for many years because the company took me back after I found out I had cancer and no health insurance yet after I left the first time. I really enjoyed the work and the staff, but management did not respect their employees or value their tremendous efforts. It was time to leave. I could not be happier at the present job that I am at. I just wish I would have done it much sooner.

  7. I’ve been in this situation and the only way to rectify it is to move on. The company will never change, it’s you who has to change.

  8. Change is caused by pain. The pain of not making enough money has started to surpass your ability to make excuses for your employer.

    Your employer is feeling no pain because they are getting the work that they want for bargain basement prices.

    You might be able to get a counter-offer from your current employer when they feel the pain of possibly losing you, but history tells you the behavior/treatment they will revert to once they know they’ve kept you.

    I’m assuming that you’re more than competent, judging by the way they have increased your responsibilities. That means that you have put in the effort to increase your knowledge and skills and have taken on more complex duties. Why would you want to continue working for somebody that repays the extra effort you put in with…nothing. And somehow the organization is sick enough that the people you work for everyday cannot or will not advocate for you. That’s messed up.

  9. I also concur with all the recommendations. The thing I find so depressing is that it is a fairly common occurrence. Do managers not know that their #1 job is to find good employees and their #2 job is to keep them working for the firm (or suffer the huge time expense of employee churn)?

  10. I agree with Nick’s advice and that of just about all the commenters, but I would advise the writer to take a step back first and look at the big picture:

    Before you do anything, really think about how important it is for you to be comfortable enough in your current job to be able to dedicate the time and energy to your family that you want to.

    You may decide that being able to focus on your family is your primary goal IN LIFE right now, and this job, as unfulfilling as it is, allows you to do that.

    You may be able to find something that pays better and offers more opportunities, and at the same time, allows you the time and flexibility to devote time and energy to your family — that is the best of both worlds.

    But recognize that may not happen, that a new job might make it difficult to focus on your family. If in your heart of hearts you want to focus on your family rather than on your job, you may decide to stay put. Of course, you could be next on the chopping block, too.

    Just be clear on your priorities in life.

  11. Everyone’s position is that you should leave and I agree. Because of your family responsibilities, secure another position first – in writing before you resign. You want to work for a company with growth potential that at least touts the work/life balance mantra. One thing I want to stress to you as a former HR manger myself is that no HR department can give raises or bonuses to staff at their discretion. HR receives direction from operational management. In this case they’re using HR as the scapegoat because they’re afraid of confrontation and delivering the bad news to you directly. It’s time to move on to a better company and until you do, hang in there.

  12. I agree with all of the comments and feel that owners/managers/hr have become so dumbed down themselves that no amount of logic applies :(

  13. If you decide to leave, do so as quietly as possible. Some companies routinely badmouth/blacklist departing employees, lest they do better elsewhere.

    It’s a perceived disloyalty to many companies.

    Especially, don’t let your old managers suck you into an argument.

  14. FEET, Do your stuff.

    Immediately, jump into active job hunting mode.

  15. I’ll give slightly different take. Don’t ask for a raise, ask for a new job. If you are doing much more than what you were hired for, your job description and title should have changed. They have calibrated their pay to the job you used to do. A bigger job is easier to justify an increase; they can’t just hire the level of person you used to be.

    It may not work. Definitely start searching now, before you negotiate your new job title/pay with management.

  16. @Jim Jarvis: I didn’t bring up the CIO who was dumped after 32 years because the column was already too long… but I knew someone would pick up on this. The one guy who at least indicated he’d try to get HR to look at the reader’s salary… got dumped! Perhaps because he asked for more money himself? Or because he was costing “too much” already? Bad signs.

    @Cindy: Our reader is indeed aware that he knows all the answers. He wrote back to confirm that. Sometimes we just need someone to confirm our thoughts.

    @Jeff: Thanks for a great summary! “The company will never change, it’s you who has to change.”

    @Ric: Thannks for cutting to the bone! “Your employer is feeling no pain because they are getting the work that they want for bargain basement prices.”

    @Dave: Most employers never stop to consider that the cost of keeping a good employee is actually lower than the cost of replacing that employee. But then again, most employers suck at accounting.

    @Larry K: Thanks for the important counterpoint. “You may decide that being able to focus on your family is your primary goal IN LIFE right now, and this job, as unfulfilling as it is, allows you to do that.” I get the feeling that the reader has already crossed that bridge in his mind, or he would not have sent me his question. Nonetheless, he should consider your point again.

    @ER: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    “One thing I want to stress to you as a former HR manger myself is that no HR department can give raises or bonuses to staff at their discretion. HR receives direction from operational management. In this case they’re using HR as the scapegoat because they’re afraid of confrontation and delivering the bad news to you directly.”

    That’s why I used the graphic about blaming HR. In the end, managers decide. HR does indeed become a scapegoat in many cases. However, in some cases, HR creates some difficult roadblocks for managers – it’s virtually impossible to give a raise without violating “policy.” Even then, it’s always up to a manager to go head to head with a “big bad HR department.” If HR becomes too powerful, it’s often because managers don’t exercise their own powers.

    @Rick: “Don’t ask for a raise, ask for a new job.” That’s a potentially good idea, but reading between the lines tells me management knows perfectly well that this individual is doing an “undefined job” for far less than such a job would be worth. I think if he asks for the job he’s doing by name (and salary), they’ll turn him down once again. It’s clear they prefer to save the money and play dumb. That act does wear thin!

  17. Yes leave. the underlying story is you are being taken for granted. in sum they don’t think you’ll leave as you’ve been there through 8 years doing above and beyond holding up your end of the deal. Management’s not done squat because you’ve been sending them a message “I’m not going anywhere”
    But don’t stomp off in a huff…don’t effect a personal revolution, effect a managed evolution.
    That old “red lined” excuse..(top of your range)… that’s where I’d focus. You’ve said your job has changed significantly since you join. You changed it. Stop going to management expecting them to do their job…If they gave a shit what they’d do is define the job you created, perhaps sweeten it some more with more scope, value it with a range that gives you that growth, and promote you. Do that for them, take the results, the value and propose the solution is to promote you. . Perhaps they’ll even evaluate and agree with you. With the pattern you’ve described they seem to be the types that will give you the title you describe, with no additional pay.
    Fine. Then take that title and job description and go out on the market with it as many have suggested. This will give you grist for your mill, because one marketing issue you have right now, is being put in the position of trying to explain that what you’re called isn’t what you really do, which is awkward. Much nicer if you can at least finesse the proper acknowledgement of your role so you can market it.
    PS. I don’t think anyone mentioned it. But you’ve painted the kind of scenario one sees, that when you resign, you then get a counteroffer. Smile on the way out

  18. I would suggest you prepare for your planned exit and don’t look back. I experienced a very similar situation and wish I had done the same. First you have to admit and accept that you are going nowhere in your current position with your present employer. 7-8 years without an increase while assuming new and extra duties and work is clearly abusive. Start your search and preparations now and beware of the counter offer. Even if you get one, I guarantee you will get even more work and probably you won’t receive another raise for another 7-8 years. Your skills are also probably not being developed in your current position. When you go to another employer and claim all your accomplishments if they don’t see a change upward in your title which is your rank within a company or an increase in pay they will think you are not a high performer. By taking care of yourself and your career you will be doing the best for your family in the long run.

  19. All:

    Thanks for the advice, and the encouragement. I sincerely appreciate your (and Nick’s obviously) time.

    @Jim Jarvis

    Security is one of the reasons I haven’t entertained leaving to this point. It’s a very secure job, especially when you’re doing multiple $130k jobs for less than $130k.

    @Kathy

    I never even considered how lazy it would look. Thank you for pointing that out.

    @Jim

    I’m already a rogue. I have butted heads with two levels of management for a few years before going over their heads to the C-level guy. I’m invisible to the new guy at the moment, but that’s b/c I have yet to go all rogue with him. ;-)

    @Cindy

    Right on. I know my value, and I know it’s not being recognized. And like Nick said, I knew the answer, and I needed to hear a true expert like Nick say it.

    @Faith

    Again with the lazy. Amazing that you can be busting butt, and people still will look at you as lazy if you’re not progressing upward through no fault of your own. But I think you’re right.

    @Ric

    That’s one thing that amazes me. There are a couple very key people here in my position, and when they do lose us, the pain will be massive. Which is another reason it shocks me that even a selfish manager won’t act in their own self interest.

    @Larry

    This is my sticking point here. I realize that I would be putting in quite a few more hours if I did leave, and that has me thinking about continuing to take the abuse. However, the point some folks brought up about how I would look to new employers when I finally DO decide to move, is a good one, and weighs heavily on this.

    @ER

    Right on. I’d secure a job before resigning.

    @Rick

    That’s nearly the exact strategy I used on the C-level guy. I argued that I am paid well for my current position on the org chart. But I’m not doing that job. The conversation went well, and I thought he would advocate for me, but it was literally 3 months before he got pushed out.

    @Don + @Steve

    Very motivating guys. Thank you. And I think you’re right.

    @All

    Thanks again for the words. The company is in a state of transition right now, and one that will come with growth potential. This is why the new C-level guy was hired on. He came in talking about how he valued talent, and understands how important people are. That’s nothing that’s ever been said before here. So I might stick it out for a few months to see where things go, but you can bet I will be searching during that time.

  20. @Undervalued: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and more details on your original story in this column’s Q&A!

  21. I once had a boss turn down a request for me to go from consultant status to full time. He said NO.

    This was soon after I helped bring in a $5 million bid and a $250k bid almost singlehandedly.

    I immediately started my job search, did not renew my (exclusive) contract with him, and then went independent after that NO.

    Sam Cooke once said:
    “You done me wrong.
    I tried to be kind…
    ..but you walked out and left me behind…
    So, there’ll be no second time.”

  22. Not so fast. As you describe your situation there’s a lot you like about it, except for the compensation.

    You have to judge the character of everyone involved. If they’re the sorts likely to take revenge on you for asking, ignore what follows. Otherwise, here’s a line I used when I was in a similar situation:

    “Right now I have a strong economic incentive to leave. Can you help?”

    When I used it, my manager replied, “Can I use that line on my boss?” Then he helped fix the situation.

  23. @ Undervalued. And keep in sight two sayings.
    The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

    And never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig

  24. That letter could have been written by me five years ago. I’d stuck around not because of family issues but because I knew that boss #4 was on her way out, and I was hoping things would improve with boss #5. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Won’t get fooled again” sums it up very well.

    I agree with Nick and the others–start looking, stop asking, and get out. Don’t be shocked if they decide to let you go. They don’t value you. Don’t expect them to suddenly grow a conscience and do the right thing, be that updating your job description or giving you a raise or giving you better opportunities. They’re happy with the status quo, don’t see any reason to change it, and the more you rock the boat the more you paint a big bullseye on yourself.

    At my last job, job descriptions were not updated despite huge changes in duties, skills, and even in how people did their jobs. The one time I remember having a group meeting with the faculty member then in charge of looking at our job descriptions it did not go well. None of us (there were 12 of us who were staff) were doing jobs that matched the descriptions–that is how much the jobs both naturally evolved and sometimes were forcibly changed (due to people leaving, technology, budget issues, etc.). The faculty member, after going over two people’s job descriptions, got mad, disgusted, and simply walked out of the meeting, never to reschedule with the rest of us. Trying to raise the issue with the next person in the chain of command went nowhere. Three people who complained were let go, downsized, fired (pick your favorite term).

    @Don: Love your comment about the pig! It is apt in far too many situations, unfortunately.

  25. After I had posted my comment yesterday, I thought of something else on the way home. A lot of job descriptions include that catch-all phrase “and other duties as required” or “and other duties as necessary”. So sure, what you’re doing now may not be specially enumerated in the list of job duties or skills in your job description, but it might fall under the “other duties” catch-all phrase. Sometimes it is ridiculous–a former boss once told me that it was my job to clean her bathroom at her home if she told me to–because my job description had that catch-all phrase at the end of it. I told her that I would go to the union as cleaning her home bathroom did NOT qualify of work or job duties. I wasn’t her housekeeper nor her maid.

    To the letter writer–if your job description contains this phrase, it is possible (likely) that your employer will fall back on it to justify not updating your job description and to get you to do all kinds of tasks that are not enumerated in your job description no matter how far off base from your actual job they seem to you.

    I know the flexibility works for you, and family does come first, but it sounds like you’ve had it with the inadequate compensation for the value that you are bringing to your employer. I agree with Nick: start looking, get a list of your contacts (who would be willing to be a reference for you), and think about where you’d like to work. Ask people about employers and how they treat their employees, their contractors, their vendors, etc. And good luck!

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