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Job promotion or more work for less pay?

In the October 18, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, two readers try to avoid getting suckered into a job promotion that’s really two jobs for one salary.

Question #1

My boss has asked me to take over someone else’s role on top of my own. The company was paying the other person to do the other job that I’d be adding to my own work. What percentage salary increase should I be given to take on the second job?

Question #2

job promotionHR came to me and discussed an opportunity that I might be interested in. However, instead of hiring someone else, HR proposed to my boss that he offer me this position while I keep my current position. It’s basically a dual role — two jobs.

The salary increase is only about $200/month. It’s very low considering I’d be saving the company a lot of money if they don’t have to hire another person. I told my boss I’m not happy with the salary bump and explained to him why. He seemed open to reviewing the salary depending on what HR comes up with.

Well, my current role does not compare with any job titles in the salary survey our HR manager uses. She compared my position to job titles that aren’t my job. So it makes no sense how she came up with the proposed salary increase. In any case, the additional role will require about 3-5 hours a week. The salary bump covers about 1.5 hours of additional time per week.

How do I negotiate this with my boss? HR’s inaccurate information shows my salary is already high compared to the salary survey, and to what everyone else makes in the organization.

Nick’s Reply

I could hand you a hundred bucks, smile and tell you I just gave you an opportunity to make more money. And it would be true, and a hundred extra bucks is a good thing, but is that a negotiation?

You’d ask me what I want you to do for the hundred bucks, and that would be the start of a negotiation. But a good, honest negotiation requires more.

When a labor union and management are working out a new contract, they do “fact finding.” When two parties discuss doing a deal, they produce a “term sheet.” Those are two ways of saying you’re putting the facts on the table. The reason these two readers are confused and at a loss is because HR has given them no facts.

Is this a real job promotion?

So my advice to both readers is, get the facts on the table. HR would rather talk about “an opportunity” and “more money,” but what HR started with is three facts you don’t have but need:

  • 2 job titles
  • 2 job descriptions
  • 2 salaries

I’d leave your boss out of this, for now. Go to the HR manager. Find out whether this is a real job promotion or just more work for less pay.

salariesHow to Say It

“Thanks for this opportunity. I’d like to make sure I understand it. May I please have copies of my formal job description and the written description of the job you’d like to add to mine, along with the actual titles of both jobs? I know what my salary is, but I need to know the salary of the other job. Then I can consider the work you need me to do and what it’s worth.” 

What you’re really saying to HR is, I expect you to do your job. We all know what job titles and job descriptions are. Now you need to see them, and that’s HR’s job. Because, when did you ever take a job without a title or description — or without knowing the salary? That’s why you’re confused and at a loss — it’s understandable. (See Roasting the job description.)

Don’t be a sucker

There’s a special term for giving you a second job without paying two salaries. That’s not a job promotion. The employer is suckering you.

A raise is a good thing, even if you have to do more work to get it. Usually, that’s called a promotion. (See Promotion, raise, bad vibes… How to Say It.) What both these stories have in common is employers that want to save lots of money — an entire salary in each case — while sharing only part of the savings with the sucker who will have to do all the extra work. And we don’t even know exactly what work.

In a well-run company, HR would combine two jobs, create a new job title, define new objectives and performance criteria, assign an appropriate salary, and put all that in writing. Only then would HR approach an existing employee and offer the newly defined job promotion with a higher salary.

But this isn’t about offering an employee more money to do more work. In these two cases, this is about duping an employee into doing two jobs without paying two salaries.

Don’t be a sucker. The only way to negotiate combining two jobs is to know exactly what’s required of both jobs, and exactly how much each job is worth before they are combined. There: Feel better?

Assess the risk

I always tell you never to take anyone’s advice about your career choices — including mine. Consider the advice, apply your best judgment, and make a sound decision. As in all things, assess the risk. Your first concern should be whether your employer will fire you if you decline the added work — or label you “Not A Team Player” and fire you later if you don’t play along with this HR game. And it is an HR game: HR doesn’t want to do this properly.

Decide what kind of risk you are willing to take if you can’t get your employer to handle this to your satisfaction. Just be careful: If you agree to this without a fully defined new job description, there will be no defined metrics your boss can use to judge whether you’re doing what’s expected. That puts you in a precarious spot. (See Don’t suck canal water.) Likewise, you can’t negotiate a new salary without knowing both old salaries.

What I’d do is get the facts, so you and HR are starting at the same place. There’s nothing wrong with your employer trying to save money by combining jobs. What’s wrong is lazy HR departments skipping the hard work of doing this right, in writing, and with full disclosure. Assuming you want the additional work and salary, tell your boss you’d love a job promotion.

How to Say It

“I think it’s best for our company, for you and for me if HR would define this as a new job, with a full description, a new salary, and clear metrics for success. And I think the best way to do this is for you — as the manager — and me and HR to meet to discuss how to define it all. I’d be happy to help!”

Don’t negotiate in a vacuum

It’s no accident in either case that HR and the boss are talking with you in isolation. They’re doing this in a vacuum to avoid discussion. I think your best negotiating position is at a table with both your boss and HR present.

I think your boss has to lead this effort, because HR has clearly shown it’s got no idea what you actually do and how it compares to jobs in the salary surveys. (By the way: I think salary surveys are useful generally speaking, but when used to assign a salary to a specific employee, they’re the pits! See Am I chasing the salary surveys?, and Beat The Salary Surveys: Get a higher job offer.)

For the reader in Question #1 who asks what percentage increase is appropriate, I don’t like to negotiate in percentages — and you should not negotiate in a vacuum, either. I think you have to sit down with your boss and HR to figure out how much more work you’d be doing, how much value you’d be adding, and how much your employer will be saving. There’s no way to just toss out a number — you must negotiate by discussing the newly defined job and salary. (For a complete approach to justifying a higher salary by using a business plan, see How Can I Change Careers?, pp. 8-12. This PDF book isn’t just for career changers; it’s for anyone who wants to stand out in a job negotiation.)

More gotchas

Both readers who submitted the above questions face an added dilemma. If the second job can be added to yours satisfactorily, then HR erred in creating the second job to begin with. Why was it separate? Don’t compound HR’s mistake by letting the HR manager sweep the second job under your job by calling it “a job promotion” without creating a new title, job description and salary. You need to know exactly what the second job was — you’ll be responsible for it! So get those documents I bulleted above.

The reader who asked Question #2 has an extra problem. Clearly, HR doesn’t understand the work you do, your job title, or your salary — none of it maps to information HR has on file. How can you negotiate adding an undefined second job to your job if HR doesn’t have the correct definition and salary for your existing job?

These are more gotchas that point to serious mismanagement of human resources at your companies. Don’t take the fall for HR’s failures.

If negotiations fail

If either of you is uncomfortable with taking on the extra work, or with how negotiations go, you can always decline “this opportunity” — and let your employer just re-fill the vacant job (or find another sucker).

Please keep in mind: If your employer is really determined to dupe you into doing more work with inadequate pay, the only exit from this quandary may be out the door to a new employer.

I’ll leave you with a joke. A person’s standing at a bar enjoying a drink. Up walks an attractive face — and says seductively, “For a hundred bucks, I’ll do anything you want.” The drinker smiles beguilingly and slaps a hundred dollar bill on the bar. “Paint my house.”

An extra hundred bucks isn’t always an opportunity.

Have you ever been faced with an “opportunity” that made you nervous because it was nebulous? Did you take it? Or what did you do? What additional tips and insights can you offer these two readers?

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24 Comments
  1. This scenario is all too common and probably will become more prevalent since lack of productivity stagnates today’s economy. Employers must find ways to make a profit and satisfy tax obligations.

    The decision to accept responsibility for this opportunity is in part monetary compensation, which definitely needs to be addressed but also on quality of life.

    With all challenges, personal growth comes about by overcoming obstacles and barriers but not without stress. Monetary compensation aids relief of stress but ultimate satisfaction comes from the personal decision to grow beyond your current circumstance.

    If you are seeking new challenges then negotiate additional compensation and be prepared to change your lifestyle. If life is good ‘as is’ decline and enjoy!

    • Actually productivity in the USA is at an all time high, and has been, for quite some time. Just because companies aren’t sharing those gains with you, does not mean that they aren’t making them.

      • EEDR: A friend of mine refers to this as “junk profitability.” Companies lower their costs by piling more work on employees without equivalent pay increases. It’s “junk” because it can’t and won’t last. Poor management always collapses.

        • @EEDR & Nick

          Disagree on productivity at all time high. For example, Mayo Clinic CEO recently announced their problem to provide affordable health care is lack of productivity due to duplication of efforts. Also, statutory regulations are stifling productivity.

          Agree on “junk profitability”. . . greed and incompetence are corporate death spirals.

          Good news, plenty of choice opportunities in the USA!

          • @Paul, How can you disagree about a matter that is factual and not a matter of opinion? Productivity is something measured and quantifiable. Yes, some employers want to keep all of the gains for the top, while blaming regulations or health care or solar flares, but those are all simply irrelevant excuses for not paying the rank-and-file what they deserve. It would be foolish to believe their self-serving lies instead of the official statistics.

            From the Bureau of Labor Statistics paper what-can-labor-productivity-tell-us-about-the-us-economy.htm (I wish I could cut-and-paste the charts they are pretty damning!)

            “This fact might strike some as surprising: workers in the U.S. business sector worked virtually the same number of hours in 2013 as they had in 1998—approximately 194 billion labor hours.1 What this means is that there was ultimately no growth at all in the number of hours worked over this 15-year period, despite the fact that the U.S population gained over 40 million people during that time, and despite the fact that there were thousands of new businesses established during that time.

            And given this lack of growth in labor hours, it is perhaps even more striking that American businesses still managed to produce 42 percent—or $3.5 trillion—more output in 2013 than they had in 1998, even after adjusting for inflation.”

            Sorry, Paul. It is what it is. What is your source that is more credible than the official statistics collected by our government?

  2. I was working in a well known, medium size, local social services agency. No one wanted to relieve the receptionist because it was constant stress of 2-3 phone lines ringing in at once, angry clients, and walk in people with no appointment. Part of the problem was staff ignoring clients and staging a work slow down that meant most people were not served. So I was told I would be lunch relief 4 days a week at the front desk. I was already limited to 30 hours and had a crazy boss who wanted my attention all the time. She would have decided to have a meeting with me at the time to relieve the receptionist just to jack everyone around and create a scene. I could not handle the stress of this front desk — I’d end up shaking and panicking. So I said no, wasn’t in my job description and if you insist, then my health is most important and I will be forced to quit sooner or later. No offer to make me full time to accommodate the increased demand on my time, either. My nutty boss was happy I said no as she didn’t want to share me. Nothing was ever said to me b/c the manager was afraid of conflict. I ended up leaving a year later b/c the manager wouldn’t rein in my boss’ abusive antics. So consider the culture there and whether or not the run from conflict. You can more easily challenge them if they hate conflict in my experience.

  3. Sorry, Nick. I don’t often say this, but you got this one completely wrong. The right answer, which should be rephrased for tact but I’m not going to bother here, is:

    “Don’t be ridiculous. You must be under the impression my current position doesn’t keep me busy. If I somehow gave that impression by being willing to work extra hours on occasion to handle a crisis or special project, I guess that just proves that no good deed goes unpunished. The money isn’t the issue – if I took this on I’d be setting myself up to fail.”

    “There’s only one way this works. I’d be happy to take this on in a supervisory role. But the responsibilities you describe will require someone handling them on a full-time basis, not as an expensive juggler. If you like, I’ll write the position description and handle the interviewing to make sure we get the right person. And because I’m a nice person I’ll take on the new employee’s supervision for the salary increase you proposed.”

    It really doesn’t matter whether your questioners are under-worked or not. Admitting you’re under-worked and have been for some time is career suicide. If anyone reading this is, in fact, under-worked, let your manager know you don’t have enough to do and are prepared to take on additional responsibilities.

    That makes you look like a pro, and someone worth promoting. But that’s a different subject than admitting it in this context.

    • Bob: I’m not sure where we disagree. Your approach goes even farther than mine, and I like that. You advocate turning the job merger down flat. My approach leads to a newly defined job after a negotiation. I like both approaches. I’ll admit that I walked a little more softly (though not much) because I think most employers in this situation would balk at either of our solutions.

      • I agree with Bob. Besides finding time for another 3 – 5 hours in a packed 40 hour week, what new job would only require 5 hours of work? Writer #2 will either find him or herself working 50 hours a week just to stay up or falling behind and failing. It is easy for HR types to combine two boxes on an org chart, a lot harder to make it work.

      • Didn’t get impression either poster seeking promotion or extra work, so thought same thing as Bob Lewis. Are these part or full time jobs? Neither sounds like a promotion (far from it, given the informal handling), but an attempt to get more for less by mashing jobs together.

  4. Going to a new employer is almost always a sure way of bettering your circumstance, be it not enough compensation or general unhappiness. Being a “lifer” isn’t as honorable or valuable as it used to be (think: accidental leader).

    Look at your current executives and senior leaders; how long have they been at your company? Your 15 years of service is only as long as their two year stint (in their eyes). They never saw you for the previous 13 years, so WHO CARES about the previous tenure, right?

    As much as I want to encourage long tenure, change is also incredibly beneficial. Manage your career and don’t WAIT for your employer.

  5. Is it all about salary? I was newly hired for one job and asked to fill in a higher level job at the same time for the same money until they hired the other person. (That person would not have been my boss). I took on the added duties because I was new and really liked the job I was hired to do. During the course of the year I was in the two jobs, they raised my salary 25% because I complained I was doing two jobs and being paid for one. But the salary rise couldn’t have helped even if it was corrected because I didn’t enjoy doing the extra job’s tasks. They offered me that higher job but because I preferred research and writing to paper pushing and budgets, I turned it down and took the lower salary. Never regretted it and am still in the same workplace. Do you enjoy the added work? That should be the question before salary comes up.

    • I think your example just proved Nick’s point. Your company got a huge benefit at your expense, especially since you didn’t ask for it.

      • Yes, they benefited at my expense. But my point was that salary increase wasn’t the main consideration for me. That’s why when they offered me full higher compensation for the higher level job, I turned them down. I think job content is equally important, although maybe more for me than others. I’m not Buddhist but I like the concept “right livelihood,” which is what draws me to this blog. When considering whether or not to take on two jobs, salary increase isn’t the only consideration. Many do jobs they dislike for higher salaries, and pay for it in ways they discover later.

  6. Articles like this puzzle me, since they outline a scenario that in other contexts would be considered unethical, if not illegal. Imagine the reaction if you asked (never mind required) your lawyer, dentist, plumber or gardener to perform extra work for free. Yet companies routinely expect same even from hourly employees (by working “off the clock”). I know exempt employees must work occasional overtime, but this is routinely abused. Having been exempt my entire career, did my share of overtime, many thousands of hours. But more often than not, resented such because I felt it due to mismanagement, unrealistic scheduling, deliberate understaffing, or just plain taking advantage. Its a giant loophole that needs plugging.

  7. Note about exempt employees. If you look at the USA department of labor definition of exempt status you will discover that it is another area where employers abuse workers just having an advanced degree or title does not automatically make you exempt. You actually have to have managerial responsibility. @Nick Good topic for another blog.

    • At my last employer, the abuse of “exempt” employees was so bad that the Feds got involved. They found over 1500 violations of the FLSA, told the school they had x amount of time to fix it, and if not, there would be further pain in the form of fines.

      You’re right–it is very, very common.

  8. @EEDR

    Good points . . .to clarify, my productivity context comes more from running a for-profit business. When cost of output that can be $50 per hour is actually $100 per hour due to factors imposed by inefficient work rules, poor management, lack of innovation and government sanctioned regulations . . . that’s a productivity issue. Growing cost of health care is a perfect example of burdened productivity.

    Government statistics may be a source of credibility but those statistics are always looking in the rear view mirror . . . did you hear about the statistician that drowned in the average of 6″ of water?

  9. @Nick: Sh*t you not, walked in this morning not a day after your blog post to receive such news for myself. I am thankful I had this blog post in my mind so fresh because I was immediately able to start asking questions such as “will there be a new job description?” and to make such observations vocally that my job will consist of two full-time positions. Of course there is more to be said and hopefully I can tackle it as one should.
    Thank you! I feel equipped to professionally tackle org changes (of which I knew were coming but did not know how).

  10. Commenters here have covered most elements of this situation, except one: understanding the salary for a particular role. If HR is just trying to match job titles, they are doing it wrong. When we conduct salary reviews, we select several “likely close” job titles, then identify the relevant job responsibilities within those titles. This tells us how close our jobs are to each of those titles, which then determines a weighted salary range. It takes a bit more work, but with a far superior result. Oh, and we don’t know reveal the salaries related to each title, so we aren’t cherry-picking the higher compensation.

  11. Was hired as a senior commercial lender at a small financial institution after stating I was not interested in managing. After one month I was approached to take over current managing duties of my manager w/no pay increase. As I stated to her in my initial interview I had no interest in managing (the personnel dysfunction & incompetence was obvious as I’d seen it many times before) and I privately opined she was just off-loading her responsibility of trying to “lead” these unmotivated knuckleheads. Two months later I was canned after she found one of the resident knuckleheads to do her job. A year later this institution was taken over by the regulators due to poor loan quality/losses :(

    Financial institutions continue to be slow learners . . . can u say Wells Fargo??

    • You could say “Wells Fargo” but you would also have to include places like the Phoenix VA Medical Center: This is what happens when you institute a program that gives a bonus to a person to simply do their job.

      RE: Profitability, junk or otherwise.

      It all comes to a screeching halt when there continues to be over 1/3 of the working population un- or under-employed, and (by extension) not having disposable income to buy things.

      Since government at any level is unable or incapable of creating jobs, it falls to the private sector to get off the pile of accumulated cash and just make some middle-class jobs. Do some expansion. Prime the pump. You get the drift.

  12. Job consolidations are good news bad news scenarios. They are bad news if you wait for HR and/or a boss to define the job and “take care of you” for pitching in. tasks like that seem to just creep off into the horizon to your detriment.
    As the one writer said, HR just reached into a grab bag salary survey for something that paid in the area of their guesstimate and satisfaction.
    The good news is these scenarios also can be turned into opportunities. I lean to Bob’s suggestion. Sit down and write your own description. And in the process don’t make it two jobs. There are usually redundancies in consolidations, so instead of 2X in size, it’s 1.X times. In the process don’t be shy about writing out some functions, and dumping them elsewhere or just eliminating them.
    Do your own survey and find or create the right title to go with the description and find out what it’s worth on the market.
    Once done you can meet that old adage..don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”
    Now you can negotiate, starting with “well if it’s not this, what is it? and what’s your take on compensation. If you can’t come to terms, then crystalize your plans and move on.
    Years ago, I was offered a job to move to Asia and set up a software development lab. That’s the description. There wasn’t anything comparable at the time, and as someone noted, the content or potential content was enticing. I took it one. Once there, I fleshed out the aforementioned non-description, entitled myself “Director”, and built up a lab, improvising my duties as I went.
    No regrets.

  13. I see a lot of job consolidations, and I’ve wondered where these employers think they’re going to Superman and the Energizer Bunny rolled up into one. The job that I see most often that used to be two separate and distinct full time jobs is Director of Admission/Director of Financial Aid at many colleges and universities. Admissions is crazy-busy for most of the year–lots of travel and working nights and weekends in addition to the regular hours during the fall/winter, then less travel but employees take work home with them in order to get all of the reading and assessments done in a timely manner. I’ve never understood how they expect the person who is running admissions (and doing travelling and reading herself) to take on another full time job and handle financial aid.

    This employer is being cheap and insulting the LW’s intelligence by trying to snow him (“this is a promotion!”) because they’re not willing to pay him for taking on the additional duties.

    I like both Nick’s and Bob’s suggestions, and in the meantime, I’d start looking for a new job.

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