Admit it. You’d like to sit down for a private chat with someone in HR,…
John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker LLC
This is the article in every issue that lets you have a private discussion with someone in HR about how things really work. In our last issue, we explored questions about how best to handle things when you’re truly unhappy at work.
For this article, we reached out to the HR Manager in the Midwest office of a national professional services firm. The confidentiality of our interviewee is important to the candor of the answers you will read. Send in your questions for our rotating panel of experts.
Q: Few things are more fascinating than the subject of who’s making how much. Why is it not such a good idea to engage in office gossip about how much your co-worker makes?
A: The problem is that employees are working with limited information. Then, they jump to conclusions – based on that limited information – about what co-workers earn. It’s true, of course, that some employees will jump to those conclusions whether they get information from gossip or not.
Still, the problem is that this limited information is usually nothing more than what someone says that someone else is earning, or rumors about what other companies are offering. By definition, that information is incomplete. It may not take account of bonuses or other type of compensation, issues regarding the work the co-worker does, or other parts of the job. It just gets messy because it’s incomplete information.
Q: What is it that employees commonly misunderstand about how raises are calculated and granted?
A: I think that they often misunderstand the way that performance is taken into account. Every employee tends to believe his performance is above average and is entitled to an above average raise. Part of the problem is that managers sometimes don’t do a good job of giving honest feedback in terms of what the employee’s contribution really is to the organization. That can lead to unreasonable expectations on the part of the employee.
Q: What’s the most effective way for an employee to make a pitch for the best possible raise? What ammunition makes the biggest difference? What kind of approach is most effective?
A: The most effective approach is usually to show evidence of a contribution in terms of increased revenue or operational expense savings. It depends on the culture of the organization, of course, but most managers would typically welcome objective information from the employee about his contribution to the company. It can make the review process more fair and complete.
Q: Should smaller raises be interpreted as a signal that further upward movement within the practice is unlikely?
A: That’s where one of the big misperceptions is. People tend to expect a bigger raise than they often get. And when they don’t get it, they begin to think “I’m dead-ended here” or “I’m not valued here and so maybe I should start to look elsewhere”. This is a pretty common error on the part of employees. If they have that perception, the better course is to raise the issue with the manager and ask to talk about whether that perception reflects reality.
Q: How likely a scenario is it that someone would continue to get raises year after year, but no promotion? What does that signal?
A: This really depends on the job and how the organization is structured, but it does happen a lot. It’s not that unusual for someone to stay in the same position while continuing to receive pay increases. At the same time, this doesn’t necessarily signal that something is wrong with the employee. It may be simply a matter of there not being a rung on the ladder to promote the employee onto. Again, though, the employee really needs to be having these conversations with the manager in terms of what the expectation is and what the employee would like his career to be doing.
Q: The issue of communication has come up more than once in our discussion. Do you find this is something that’s missing a lot?
A: Yes, it is something that’s missing a lot. Often, managers aren’t pro-active about bringing up important issues and talking about them. They may not be well-trained in this area or may just not be comfortable. Likewise, employees may not be comfortable bringing them up. And if the manager didn’t bring it up, the employee might read more into that than is really there.
The best place to start is with the manager. If an employee doesn’t get the answers he’s looking for, he might want to visit with HR and get some advice as to what the next step should be.