If It Wasn’t For Those Darn Kids

I began my current job just under a year ago. When I received the job offer, I accepted my boss’ initial salary offer without attempting to negotiate because 1) I was really interested in the job 2) My job search had gone on for much longer than I had expected, and 3) the offer was within the range I had anticipated, albeit on the low end.

During my first week on the job my boss informed me that my colleague who heads up the project I work on would be going on maternity leave in a matter of weeks. After about a month on the job, I was responsible not just for my work, but for my colleague’s. (She had been staffing the project by herself, but it had become so large that they hired me.) So for over 3 months I worked very hard to learn and manage the work of two people. My initial reaction was to step up and take one for team–it provided a good opportunity to show my capabilities and work ethic to my boss. Although it was stressful at times, I kept the project moving forward and was thanked personally by my boss when my colleague returned.

A fews months passed, and then my colleague missed what was far and away the busiest week of the year because her baby got sick, and then she got sick from the baby. I had to take on her responsibilities again, only this time without any advance warning. I just found out today that she will be out another for another week next month. I get along very well personally with both my boss and my colleague. And in principle, I’m all for pro-family work policies, even though I do not really enjoy any benefits since I am single. However, I recently discovered that my colleague’s salary is about $15,000 more than mine. This made me very angry because I had assumed that the difference was more like $5000-7000 (she only has a couple years more experience than me). I really resent the fact that I have spent almost a third of my time here covering for her, while she rakes in that much more in income. I like my job, but no one told me during the job interview that I would be taking on this many extra hours—that would have surely influenced my evaluation of the salary offer.

I have a performance evaluation in a few months. Given my circumstances, I plan on asking for a substantial raise. I don’t expect parity with my colleague, but I really think it is unfair that there was not full disclosure of what my responsibilities would be. When I ask for the raise should I say that much to my boss, or just highlight my willingness to step up?

Well, one thing you’ve already learned is the value of countering salary offers. I have yet to hear of a case where a company offers X and the candidate says, “how about X+$5000” and the company says, “we’re rescinding the original offer.” The worst they’ll say is no. (Now watch, I’ll get an e-mail from someone who tries this advice and gets the original offer rescinded, plus their dog is hit by a truck and an ice storm hits the Midwest and they are forced to live without power eating cold beans and weenies, all because I told them to suggest a counter offer.)

I think you handled the extra work perfectly–just dig in and do it. Which you did. No use complaining.

But, now it’s yearly evaluation time and it’s time to get more money. Lots more money. (Incidentally, it’s harder to get a big raise once you are hired then it is to raise your starting salary, in my humble opinion.) The first rule is that your co-worker’s name must never come out of your mouth.

Yes, she was off having a baby, so you had more work to do. Then the kid got sick. Then she got sick. Your trials are largely due to her trials. This is one of the most difficult things about working parents–usually mothers. You need time off after a baby is born. And someone has to stay home with the kid when it is sick. It’s usually mom. No social commentary here, just sayin’.

So, your goal is to not say, “When Karen was on maternity leave…” or “When Karen was out for two weeks…” Rather, you want to say, “I jumped in and took on extra work. I learned blah blah blah and successfully blah blah blah and I’ve contributed blah blah blah. When I was hired I didn’t realize the amount of extra hours that I would have to put in in order to meet deadlines and goals. I’m happy to do it because I value this project and I value this company, but I’d like to have my compensation reflect the value I have added and will continue to add to this company.”

Now, when your boss says, “Good job for covering for Karen, but now that she’s back…” Don’t fall into the temptation to start badmouthing Karen, working mothers in general and annoying children who kick the back of your seat on the airplane. (Incidentally, you would think that if a two year old’s feet can reach the back of the seat in front of him, that would be a good clue to the airline that the seats are too close together.)

Say thank you and then talk about the project, and not about how you picked up Karen’s slack.

Good luck and I hope you get a huge raise.

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8 thoughts on “If It Wasn’t For Those Darn Kids

  1. Errm – actually I have a story just like that!

    My company ( MNC who is an industry leader ) wanted to recruit a person for a new business we are starting in a particular area. Everything went well with the candidate till the salary negotiation – his initial salary was, we felt, highly inflated and we did negotiations and was willing to accommodate a 6% hike which paid him much higher than many internal candidates with similar background.

    However he wanted us to compensate him for the risk he was taking (?) in accepting a role with ambiguity. In our business, change is constant and people do move around a lot – but within the company. The hiring manager lost it and felt that the employee doesn’t really trust the company or believe in the profile – which had in its specification a willingness to challenge status quo and take risks – and rescinded the offer.

    Oh, btw, that job was to report to our global HQ and it would have given him a good boost to his resume and would have opened up a global career to him – which he did not have currently…

    Im just saying….
    ~ 666

  2. For every rule there is always an exception, but I have never heard of anyone rescinding and offer because of the candidate countering (once). If someone were to keep countering I would quickly start to think that my offer is being used for leverage elsewhere. But a simple – I am really interested, can we do xzy, it’s either a yes or a no… I would actually be a little hesitant about working for someone that couldn’t respect a healthy amount of self-interest. I don’t mind working hard but I’m not looking for serfdom.

    I absolutely agree with Evil HR Lady’s advice, you won’t help yourself by bringing up anyone else in your review, especially not their salary. Talk about what you have accomplished and what you would like to accomplish. Being a parent I can sympathize with your co-worker but I do appreciate your frustration with having to pick up extra work. If you honestly feel like you are being penalized for being single and are not compensated in other ways for you extra work i.e. increased pay, growth potential, etc… Well, we all have options.

  3. and at our firm we are told in so uncertain terms that we should not bring up salary questions during performance evaluations.

    WHEN we are to bring them up, they don’t say.

  4. This is an excellent example of how organizations shoot themselves in the foot by playing around with important stuff like salaries. I’ve been in HR for over 15 years, and even though we all know salary information is supposed to be confidential, people always seem to find out how much their colleagues make – it’s mysterious, but true. And when they find a disparity like this one, what happens? They get justifiably angry; people who do essentially the same job should be paid within a reasonable band of each other.

    In my humble opinion, if this boss knows that this associate knows what her co-worker is making he will be much more likely to equalize the situation, if he has any sense.

    I would not wait for the performance review, I would go talk to him now and tell him you know what the disparity is and you would like him to fix it. If he is not willing to do so, I would be real nice about it and start looking, this is not the kind of boss you want to work so hard for.

  5. If I think about it, the times in which I have rescinded a offer it has never been because of a reasonable, professional counter attempt.It was because of the candidate handled the negotiation poorly and gave me incite to something missed during the interview process.

  6. I hate to say it but:

    Let this be a lesson to those of you extremely uncomfortable negotiating salary. If you are not willing to do it up front it may bite you in the behind later.

  7. Yeah, I once made a mistake by accepting a low commission rate, just because the hiring manager told me that a huge bulk of the sales was "shoo-in", which meant that there would be little or no effort on my part.

    When i joined the firm, i realised that that's not the case.

    Lesson learnt: Don't believe when you are told you are paid for little / no effort. There's no free lunch in the world.

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