In the March 10, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that the boss laughs off a “small” raise.


underpaid-crumbI work for the CFO of a huge company and I am grossly underpaid. When I brought this to his attention (several times) he finally thanked me and laughed it off, saying that I was slightly underpaid. He promised to work with HR to get me the small difference. That was in January. We are now in March. He even pointed out it wouldn’t really affect the budget for the year. It’s so small — yet he has no time to follow up on the paper work. I’ve been in contact with the compensation manager, who said they are waiting on my boss to make the next move. My boss keeps saying “it’s in process.” A “slight increase” to me is enough to cover gas for the week. I’m sure if he’s measuring it up to his $500k salary, it would be considered slight. What should I do?

Nick’s Reply

I’ve been in your situation myself, and I rationalized that “these things take time.” They do, but it’s incumbent on your boss to keep you apprised of progress — and to get it done. Or why is he the boss?

It sounds to me like he’s not on the same page about this, no matter what he says.

I see two disconnects:

  • You think you’re grossly underpaid, but he thinks the difference is slight.
  • He says he’s taking care of it, but the comp manager says that’s not true.

These are not good signs. You must decide whether these are signals that you need to be working for a company and boss that value you the way you think you should be valued.

I’m not suggesting you should stir up trouble. If you press this, you could get under your boss’s skin. Because this seems to be a trifling matter to a man who’s paid handsomely, it might be more of an irritation than he thinks you’re worth. In other words, it might cost you your job — and I don’t want to contribute to that if it’s not worth it to you.

But if your boss doesn’t come through with a reasonable increase, you should perhaps hedge your bet by having other options ready to go.

When I went through this once, I waited and negotiated for months. Nothing came out of it. But I finally lined up another job elsewhere. When my boss once again delayed a resolution, thinking he’d just keep me hanging, I submitted my resignation — and I let him figure out what happened.

Nothing makes you more powerful; nothing lets you make intelligent choices; and nothing keeps your spirits up — like having a good option B when option A doesn’t work out.

Because my option B was ready to go, I didn’t even vent my spleen on my jerk of a boss when I quit. I just smiled and moved on. It wasn’t worth explaining it to him because, thanks to the existence of option B, I really didn’t care and mentally I had already moved on! If I wasn’t worth an honest effort at correcting my salary, then my employer wasn’t worth a worry on my way out the door.

We came across a more extreme example of your problem last year: What to say to a stingy boss. While your boss doesn’t sound as bad, you’re still stuck without a raise after a lot of talk. Three months is plenty of time to be patient.

My advice: Even if you don’t need to use it, get yourself an option B. It will free you to look at this in an entirely different way. It’s not good to be under someone else’s thumb with nowhere to go.

For your next job, try this approach to compensation: How to decide how much you want.

How long would you wait for your boss to do what he promised? What else could this reader do?

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  1. It’s time to go with option B. I doubt you boss would allow a lateral move within the same company.Since this is a huge company, it is surprising that they don’t have carefully researched salary grades for each job level. Your salary grade may be incorrect.

  2. So, you brought this to his attention several times and he laughed it off? Nothing funny here.

    I think Nick’s suggestion of having an option B is a good one. Line up your next job, resign, and let them figure it out.

  3. Go with option B. If this person is truly the CFO of a huge company, he could make this happen in a day. His assistant/secretary could write up the paperwork, and he could take 60 seconds to look it over, sign it, and forward it on to the HR department for processing.

    The fact of the matter is that he doesn’t want to. Why he doesn’t is irrelevant to your situation. Find something better and don’t look back.

  4. Once you pursue Option B, don’t entertain / accept a counter offer.

  5. @Jim–I agree. Your boss will think he can string you along yet again.

    My boss, who was fired last year, kept telling me he was going to “look into” getting my position upgraded. Like an idiot, I believed him.

    Here we are, two years later, and my position has not been reviewed for an upgrade. I too am way underpaid for my skill set and credentials, as well as what I do.

    I have my plan B in the works. I know they do not care if I leave or stay, so I have no angst about moving on.

  6. I strongly agree with the comments made so far. Move on. Your boss is a jerk who is doing this because he thinks he can. Assemble option B. There is nothing more to be said, that hasn’t already been said, several times over. Once you commit to move on, don’t consider counter offers.

  7. @dlms: As I said in the column, I waited months. My new boss was someone I’d never worked for before, but who’d been with the company a long time. Nice guy. Very methodical. He was supposed to work out a new comp plan for me. And we looked at it every which way. I think the problem was that he wanted to do the right thing, but was afraid to take the right kind of comp package “upstairs” for approval. So we met every Friday for months. “Like an idiot, I believed him.” All he was doing was stringing me along.

    When I quit, I gave him a one-line resignation. No anger, no resentment. Option B saved me from all that. I was done and I couldn’t care less what he thought, wanted, expected. I have a long fuse and I’m very understanding. But, once that fuse burns down, it’s over. When you give someone every break in the book, you feel no guilt when you close the book.

    I wish you the best on your plan B. While what your boss is putting you through is not worthy of your patience, getting the right plan B is. Focus on that, get it right.

  8. Option B for sure. As a CFO in a huge company he doesn’t have Nick’s aforementioned problem. He doesn’t need to take it upstairs..he is upstairs.

    This may be worse then being strung along. Stringing someone along takes effort.

    The guy sounds like a workaholic procrastinator. There’s a good bet he’s neck deep in bean counting, loves it, delegates nothing, and what suffers he another part of his job…that of being a manager

    And manager’s a great job if you aren’t pestered by the management stuff, like administration, taking care of your people, and fulfilling a simple promise.

    Go forth and find a manager who manages

  9. Get plan B up and running. You will feel better about yourself, and your opportunities. There are plenty of good bosses out there who will value you, and treat you right. Your friends can help you find them.

    I had a boss who screwed me out of a 5-figure bonus after a stellar year on my part, in spite of my having it in writing (“my new VP says you already make enough in salary, and I can’t overrule my new VP”). Luckily a headhunter called me with a better opportunity about that time, and I was gone in just weeks. The boss scowled and wouldn’t talk about it. As Nick said in his situation, I let the boss figure it out. It was a great feeling walking out the door.

  10. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that no one else at work gives a crap about you…

    I’ve been lied to so many times about raises, promotions, etc, that I don’t believe anyone…ever.

    Show me the contract. Show me the money. Otherwise, don’t waste my time.

    I guess I am bitter. haha

  11. “I am grossly underpaid. ”

    Based on what? So far, we have one individuals opinion of them self. I’m not saying this may not be true, but the FACT that this person took the job at an agreed salary needs to be remembered. We don’t know if the company gave across the board raises over the years or not. One-sided stories always make me pause and ask what am I not being told.

    The reality is, if this person is indeed worth more and their boss honestly agreed with that statement, he would have taken care of it in a timely manner. How the boss was approached about this pay issue may also have played a role in his lack of drive to get it done. Making a case for the value one brings to the company is better than just saying “I am grossly underpaid. “ That just sounds like whining to me. This person NEEDS to actually see if they are indeed worth more to another company. Reality may be very different.

    It’s one thing to say your worth more, but your REAL value is based on what people are willing to pay you for your skills/ability/experience. I could care less about gender, race or sexual preference. Are you able to get the job done, how much real world experience do you have, are you self-motivated and do you have the drive/aptitude to grow your skills over time.

    I’ve been in positions where I knew others made more than me, but I loved what I did and the people I worked with (I don’t compare my life/worth to others). When that love faded or I longed for new challenges, I didn’t complain about the money or my current duties. During my 15 years at my current employer, I’ve been promoted within my department and across other departments. My current position was my biggest change when I lost trust/confidence in my boss. I made my mind up to leave that office. I found a new position within my company in less than two weeks. The new position provided me with new opportunities and a 19% increase in pay. I’ve been in the position for over 8 years and just got a regular raise and my boss added a rate bump as well. I never complained about my rate of pay, I was happy to have work and love what I do. The money will follow when you love what you do IMO.

    My basic rule of thumb is…if you don’t like what you do or where you work, look for a new job. Bitching about how others don’t appreciate you is a waste of breath and just childish IMO. Only YOU have ultimate control over your life and the direction you’re going.

    I know many people my feel I’m being insensitive or too direct. Without having both sides of this story, I can only provide my opinion and I prefer to be direct with adults.

    I wish this person all the best, but think they need to start testing the waters in another department or another company and see what they are REALLY worth in the job market.

  12. The NY Times on March 10 noted that those who quit their jobs for another got an average pay raise of 14%. Those who stayed got an average raise of 3.2%.
    Cheapo companies expect people to leave if their pay is substandard.
    I wonder if the writer’s company is one who believes in paying what they consider top performers a lot and stiffing everyone else.

  13. I agree with @dlms and other commenters about this issue. I have enough experience in these matters to know when the slightest amount of not being appreciated and being disrespected for your true value definitely means an implicit “to move on”. Like @dlms, my boss doesn’t care if ANYONE moves on (so she says). I am grossly underpaid even though the work is rewarding. The administration just sucks. With my credentials, and experience, I already have plan B, C, and D lined up. Also, my boss is mentally disordered and psychotic. You get blamed for things that is out of your control. So yeah, I’m moving on.

    So to sum it all:
    1) If you’re not valued-move on
    2)underpaid and they know you are- move on
    3)isolated with no growth – move on

    Good stuff fellow commenters!

  14. You actually were promised an increase? Our company re-wrote a long-term contract with NO provisions for increases, and expected to keep the crew together. We had a couple minuscule increases along the way as a result of found money, but 7 years in most of us are (adjusted for inflation) about 20 – 25% down from where we were started.

    So what does this (and your situation) tell you? It tells you that management, while in their $3,000 suits flying around in the corporate G-IV all the while looking down on the “little people” harbor the opinion that “those people a damn lucky to have a job, and should be grateful for it!!”

    Take a look around at the economy where you are, or where you want to be. If just having a job is where it is at, then suck it up.

    If not, Plan B.

  15. Gee, I wonder why some employers express a lack of “love & loyalty” from their employees? This discussion offers some answers, if answers are what they’re really seeking.

  16. @Peter: Not being an irritant, and not meaning to come over as crass, but I think the people here are intelligent enough to know when they are being underpaid and are not making overt and false claims about their worth.

    However, if you need a “based on what…” assessment backed up by facts for stating that we here on this blog know that we are underpaid, my job has not had a base salary adjustment in 15 years, and has been brought up to the board of this organization for the unconscionable oversight. The salary is statistically based on the inflation and standard of living rates of the year 2000. I live in the 3rd most expensive cost of living city in America to boot, Chicago. Although I have not been here at this job that long, I knew negotiations were going on to get this situation rectified, which was the reason I took the position anyway(since you said we knew what the pay was before we started).

    But since it is not important enough for them to value their hard workers and nothing has been done, and administration is less than professional, it is time to move on. I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure others have proof of why they are underpaid as well.

    I just wanted you to know that I don’t say anything unless it is fact based, especially when talking about employee’s value and worth to an organization, especially my own. As a past finance person, analyses and comparison of value is what I know, and those things I don’t speak lightly of.

  17. @Peter: I’m sorry, but I’m with Gwen. I didn’t read the Q&A as whining but as someone who had tried to rectify the problem after having done her research and learning that she was being underpaid. I, too, think that most people here, and particularly Nick, who I believe has probably developed a highly-tuned BS and whine meter, can tell when they’re being underpaid and snowed. When you’re told that you’re a great job (don’t leave–we’d fall apart without you) but when it comes to the money, queue the sound of crickets or birds chirping, then there’s a problem. Too many employers no longer value hard work and hard workers–cheap cheap cheap (and I’m not mimicking birds) is the order of the day. Like Gwen, I, too, faced this problem in my last job. I gathered the data, wrote a memo with the data showing how much profit I brought to the school with the program I ran as well as how I’d streamlined processes over the years to make it more efficient and thus more profitable. I couldn’t get a job performance review much less a raise, and when I pushed it, they hired a temp, told me to train her in all aspects of my job (this also came after the dean lost over $600K of the profits my program generated). A temp is cheap, much cheaper than me. Like Gwen, my costs (my contribution to my health plan, costs of living, including rent, groceries, insurances, gas, etc.) went up every year. When a new governor came in and finally agreed to our raises as per our contracts (we all worked without contracts for 5 years under the old governor), it worked out to something like 3% over the next 5 years. The increases (including the cost to park there, dues, benefits, etc.) meant that we all took pay cuts over those years. So, yes, forced out or leave on your own, many good, hard working employees know that they’re underpaid and not valued at all, so it is time to move on. Nick’s advice is spot-on, as usual.

  18. From this past week’s blog, I found the most magical of statements – I want to put them on a pillow. I printed them out and put them on the frig instead. They are:

    “Nothing makes you more powerful; nothing lets you make intelligent choices; and nothing keeps your spirits up — like having a good option B when option A doesn’t work out.”

    I am sure I have heard these words in other forms before – but I had forgotten. Thank you for reminding me.

  19. @Susan Wright: Okay, who wants to do the needlepoint pillow?? :-)

  20. Nick is spot on.

    What he doesn’t mention is that most-80-90% by my estimate- companies are badly run, more like a high school clique or an alcoholic family than a business.
    The reasons are personalities and human interactions, badly managed.

    The answer is to network, talk to other people in your industry, help them with their problems, and move on when they offer you a position.

    Therapist joke-
    Q: “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?”
    A: “Only one…IF the light bulb wants to change.”

    People and companies can change- but only if they want to.
    Time to create your “option B”- and DON’T send out resumes!

  21. Since a former co-worker; who was being paid more than I was to do the same job quit, I have been the only worker still maintaining numbers. So you can imagine the workload…it has been a year since my co-worker left and I have inherit her work, but I have not inherit the salary. I have been mentioning a salary increase for about three months. He acknowledges that I deserve the increase, and recently asked me to create a proposal for this increase and include other initiatives I can take on…I had no issue with the proposal, however the additional initiatives is the problem. I drew up the proposal with a slightly bigger increase, because of these new initiatives he asked me to take on. We schedule a meeting to go over this proposal, and he does not shoe up for the meeting, and instead calls and asks for a conference call instead. I agreed and email him the proposal, although I was highly offended. During this conference he complimented my proposal, while discussing the new initiatives and still increased the new initiatives, and barely mentioned the salary increase. I mentioned the increase, and he says, please input the new business initiatives, because I want to take this to the “higher ups” above my boss, so I want them to have a clear picture of the new ideas you are going to bring to the table.
    That being said,I am very upset and I feel unappreciated, and pushed around and have started looking for other opportunities. However, I am torn because I really like the company I work for, and have a feeling that I should take my original proposal to the Director AKA his boss, and see what she thinks, as far my value to the company and raise.
    Please let me know what you think…