When raises dry up, negotiate hard to get what you deserve

If your boss expects extra effort but won't provide extra compensation, you have to push for your hard-earned reward

Dear Bob ...

For the past two years, the company that I've worked for hasn't given bonuses due to the economic downturn. I understand that fully. Even the executives (one pay grade up from me -- senior director and above) didn't receive any for 2008 in my division. This, again, is all well and good.

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The problem that I have is that the company has been adopting the "we need to do more with less" mantra. In 2008 I was the lead project manager for a data center migration. The entire year was spent with no vacations allowed (although time off was granted during "blackout" weekends when migrations were not taking place, but you did have to be close by), and I worked or was on duty more than half the Saturdays and Sundays.

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Basically I had no life outside of work. So the economy goes down the tubes, and I receive no bonus, a tiny raise, and a performance review that is "meets expectations" due to HR having to have an even distribution of rankings on the bell curve.

Yes, that's right -- you read that correctly. That was the word from my boss, and I had to downgrade one of the individuals that I manage for the same reasons. All this for all the effort, and our division completed the data center migration with no issues whatsoever -- and I had my usual handful of other projects to complete and manage.

2009 had more of the same.

So review time is upon us again. I haven't had a promotion in three years, no bonus in two years.

I've been documenting all of the projects on my plate, and everything has been completed successfully, early, under budget, etc. This year, our segment did very, very well. Rumor is there will be a bonus, but nothing concrete. Anything will be welcome.

I'm hoping that this year's review takes some previous efforts into consideration. We're at the point where the only stage of the review process is for the final meeting where my boss (the division CIO) will give me my ranking and merit information. He knows I'm working hard, but doesn't always say so (which is OK -- I know he knows I'm working hard).

My question (finally) is: How best to verbalize the fact that we can't keep doing more with less without compensation commensurate with the effort that is being put forth.

I don't want to sound like a complainer, but they have to throw us a bone somewhere. Eventually, this "more with less" model just starts to wear thin. I think that, based on my performance over the past few years, I'm ripe for being at least bumped up to the next pay grade and, hopefully, deserving of a bonus. I'm beginning to see other individuals stop going above and beyond like they used to due to similar frustrations.

I'm about there myself. I know this sounds selfish, but at some point you have to start looking out for one's self, I suppose.

What do you think?

- Worn thin

Dear Worn ...

I don't know your company's economic situation, so it's hard to assess things on that front. Here's what seems pretty clear from your account of things:

  • The folks at the top of the company don't appear to think in terms of the value employees provide. If they did they'd communicate a lot, explaining the economic realities, expressing frequent appreciation, and talking about how the company will express its gratitude more tangibly when it's in a better position to do so.
  • Your employer also doesn't appear to have the discipline it needs to make hard choices -- one face of the "lean and mean" philosophy of management. I can't say that for sure, of course. I'm drawing the conclusion because when a company has fewer people to do the work -- and this is true unless it was overstaffed and complacent before the downturn -- what it should be doing is making hard choices so that it doesn't invest in more concurrent projects than it has employees to staff them.
  • If my chain of inference is on target so far, the final conclusion is that if the company does turn itself around, its employees won't be the ones to see the benefit. That will go to executive bonuses and dividends to shareholders.

It's entirely possible that this analysis is way off base, of course. You're in a far better position to figure out what to expect in the future.

My point is that the more important issue for you to consider is whether to stick it out or to find a better opportunity. Make that decision based on your assessment of the character of the company leadership, because that isn't going to change.

So far as how to raise the issue, my best advice is a line I've used myself and have mentioned in Advice Line from time to time: "I need your help. Right now I have an economic incentive to find a position with a different employer. I like working here and I'd rather not have to deal with that realization every day."

- Bob

This story, "When raises dry up, negotiate hard to get what you deserve," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com.

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