Someday My Raise Will Come — Won’t It?

What to do when responsibilities come quick but compensation doesn’t

Back Article Jun 4, 2015 By Suzanne Lucas

About five months ago, my supervisor assigned to me major new responsibilities at work, including managing four people and one aspect of our budget. When I asked to discuss my compensation in light of the added workload, he said it could only be addressed as part of my annual review. Now, I’ve learned my compensation will be discussed only after HR signs off on the raise he already proposed, without allowing any input or conversation from my end. How should I proceed if the pay increase feels too low or if back pay (which he mentioned was a possibility) isn’t included?

He’s already made it pretty darn clear that he’s not interested in discussing the actual raise with you. This may be because he’s a control freak or it may be because that’s just how your company operates.

You have new responsibilities, but it doesn’t sound like you were put into a new position. That is, there wasn’t a vacancy that you got moved to, opening up your old job to be filled by someone else. You just got new responsibilities. This is generally called a “growth promotion” or a “promotion in place.” It’s a great way to grow your career but not an especially great way to increase your salary.

Salary budgets are funny things. Dollars are put into different piles, and never shall the piles be mixed. So, if there’s a vacant position and you’re moved into it, your boss can easily raise your salary up to the specific budget for the new position. (Unless your company has a rule about a maximum increase, which may mean that you end up making less than your similarly situated peers.) But the budget for a growth promotion is completely separate, and it has to be shared with everyone else getting a growth promotion at the same time.

That sharing is what makes this complicated. If there is $10,000 in the growth promotion pot and two people are getting growth promotions, that means you may get $4,000 and the other person $6,000, or you both may get $5,000 or some other mixture. But if there are 10 people getting growth promotions, the amount in the pot doesn’t increase. That was decided by finance a long time ago, and it’s the managers who decide how many growth promotions happen this budget cycle. Ten people splitting $10,000 means everyone gets a pathetic raise. It’s even worse if one of those people is an assistant vice president getting a $9,000 cut of the pot.

Related: Show Me the Money — Just because the workload increased doesn’t mean your pay will

Unfair? It certainly can be. But it may not be your boss who is responsible for the unfairness — his budget is dependent on his peers and his boss and his boss’s boss. Discussing it with you is pointless because he has no control over how much money he can give you. Shocking? You bet, but it’s a reality.

This means when he says, “Your raise is $1,000! Congratulations!” and you say, “What the heck? I took on 14 new responsibilities, four new direct reports and a whole bunch of stress,” there’s nothing he can do about it. The same is going to apply for back pay. For heaven’s sake, ask, but it may be completely out of your boss’s hands. (I have told managers no way, no how on back pay for promotions. They shouldn’t have promised, and they have to clean up their own messes.)

Now, hopefully your raise will be reasonable and all will be well. But if it’s not, that doesn’t mean all is lost. Bosses frequently have some leeway on other perks. Here are some things you should ask about:

A bona fide promotion. Is there any way we can change this from a growth promotion to a promotion into a vacancy? This seems like ridiculous sleight of hand, but it really can be a possibility.

What your boss needs to do is write up a job description and ask for a vacancy. He can even argue that your current position be eliminated and then put you into the new one. Because the budgets for a new position and a growth promotion are separate, money can magically appear. Granted, this is a long shot, but stranger things have happened.

More vacation. While it’s true that most companies have set vacation policies, if you’re an exempt employee (which you undoubtedly are, managing four others), bosses can authorize vacation off the books. Shhh. It won’t follow you if you go to a new department, but it’s worth asking about.

Other perks. What do you want that you don’t have? A flexible schedule? Telecommuting a couple of days a week? Parking? Because none of these things hit the budget for raises, you may have some flexibility there.

Getting rid of some work. It’s completely fair to say, “Since I took on all this extra work and am not seeing very much additional money, can I pass X to Carol, Y to Steve and stop doing Z all together?” Of course, this stinks for Carol and Steve, but why should you be the only one to suffer?

Are these perks as fabulous as a great new salary? Well, you can’t compare a parking space to $10,000, but they are better than nothing. Be prepared to at least ask for something if money isn’t a possibility.