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Mar 2, 2011

Ask a Manager: Taking one for the Team

The Finishing School welcomes our guest manager,  "Patty Hewes," to respond to a recent Ask the Manager question.
Note:  some facts in the letter below have been omitted or altered to obscure the workplace.  The letter is otherwise genuine.

I am so frustrated. 
For 3 years I had been telling the VP that my staff's salaries (and mine) were depressed.  I had been told that we would be benchmarking the exempt positions and at that time would make the adjustments, [so]  I beefed up my job descriptions for my department  [and] the consultants [recommended] my job [go] up 3 pay grades.  But my company will only increase me 2 pays grades.  (They base your increases on the midpoint of the range.)  My manager… has determined that he is only willing to pay me 80% of the midpoint... I am aware that my peers in this same department, different unit, are all getting paid at 90 to 95% of the midpoint in the same pay grade (2 pay grade increase).

If I were doing a mediocre job, this could and would be acceptable.  But I have gotten nothing but praise from people from all over the company.  Several of the VPs are constantly singing my praises.  My own VP is singing my praises.  I have turned the morale of my department around and it has affected the department that works in conjunction with mine and turned them around.  I am master-prepared which is not necessarily needed for my position of administration and management but is what my VP wanted, yet he is allowing my immediate manager to undermine and short change me on this matter.
One other item that I was dealing with at the same time was my manager's unwillingness to promote one of my employees based on her years of experience and education.  I had planned to promote her to a Sr. level position as a way to get her salary up.  Because she had only been with the company for 18 months, he believed it was too soon.  He failed to take into consideration her 25 years of experience elsewhere or the fact that she had her masters. 

Right or wrong, I [canceled a meeting my VP]  to discuss the above issues as well as other matters concerning my staff and lack of support:

Prior to canceling my meeting,  I sent a note to my manager and copied my VP reviewing [my employee's] years of experience, her education, the facts of the changes to our program and the positive outcome, I did a spreadsheet reviewing all that she had accomplished in the past year.  I asked my manager to reconsider her promotion.

After speaking with my VP [the following]  Monday, my manager has agreed to promote her to a Sr. level position.  His remarks to me prior to telling me he had reversed his decision what to ask this question.  "If you had a custodial employee who had their masters, would you pay them the custodial salary or $100,000.00 b/c they had a masters?"  I responded with, "I wouldn't have to worry about that because I would not hire a custodial with a masters.  They would not stay in the job and would always be looking for another, higher paying job."  There is no comparison.  They wanted me to hire a masters prepared employee that could replace me if I should leave, yet they didn't want to compensate her. 



Dear Reader,
I empathize with the obvious pain you are experiencing.  You are very emotional about the conflicts you experienced in pursuing pay increases for your staff.  I applaud your persistence in being an advocate for your team.  Compensation can be a tricky and emotionally laden issue, and unless you're in environments like the public sector (where pay grades are public) or in union environments where collective bargaining establishes compensation by grade, conversations about fair compensation can be somewhat subjective.

Try to exhibit an understanding of the constraints your management may have faced on the issue of pay raises.   You’re pressing for 2 or 3 level pay grade and compensation increases during the worst economic climate in decades.  Many workers, including those in unions, have been asked to sacrifice compensation in recent years.  Salaries have been frozen, workers asked to take unpaid furloughs, layoffs have been widespread and unemployment has hovered at levels not seen since the early 1980's. Possibly, your industry has been less impacted by the recession, but there are few that haven't been.

You took a constructive first step by revisiting your position descriptions and having them benchmarked against market standards.  That the revised position descriptions justified 2-3 level pay grade increases indicates this probably hadn't been done in a while.  When it was revealed that you were all significantly below market compensation, you should have kept the economic constraints mentioned above in mind when seeking resolution with management.  One option you might have explored was a commitment from your management to move the affected employees closer to the midpoint of the target range over the course of multiple review cycles vs. pressing for immediate pay raises. 

Another item that concerns me is your seeking a promotion for an employee "as a way to get her salary up".  Promotions are generally driven both by an employee's demonstrated ability to take on more responsibility and by the needs of the business.  I suspect this is where the manager’s comment about the $100K custodian originated. 

Employees and managers should regularly educate themselves about the market value of their own skills and those of their teams so that they doesn't find themselves in this position in the future.  Follow Steven Covey's advice to "seek to understand before you seek to be understood"; i.e. anticipate the constraints of the other party when entering a negotiation and formulate resolution strategies that can work for both sides.
Expand Your Learning:
salary benchmarking strategies 
From PayScale.com
From karlonia.com 

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