when I asked for a raise, my boss responded, “who should I fire?”

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A reader writes:

I’m in the media world. I’m emphasizing this because it seems that every attempt at getting advice use it seems that every attempt at getting advice for any work-related issue ends with “Hey, it’s media, the rules don’t apply.” Maybe you can help me.

My boss is a monster. Exceptionally inappropriate, emotionally abusive, manipulative, etc. I’ve dealt with it. But what happened to really set me off was the following: After 3 years+ at my current job title, I asked for a promotion. My workload had increased by 70%, my responsibilities are in-line with those of a higher title, I’ve put in another jobs’ worth of extra hours–all without sacrificing quality. Other co-workers had received the promotion to my desired title, though their workloads had not increased, etc. So I thought I was pretty good for the bump finally. I asked professionally and received the following response: “As much as I want to, you’re definitely qualified, you do an exceptional job, but in order to do that…I’d have to fire another person to justify to our CEO the title change. Who should I fire?”

I believe I sat there, a bit dumbfounded, and instead asked what I could do to get the title change. “Nothing, you’re definitely doing the work and you’re more than qualified.” She said that she could make a case for me in a few months, during budget review, but couldn’t make any promises. Since then, she’s told all of my coworkers how I asked for a promotion and did not get one.

These are all inappropriate things, right? I’m losing my perspective as to if this is an OK thing for her to do.

Yes, it’s highly inappropriate

First of all, she can’t change your title without firing someone? That’s BS. And even it were somehow true, which it’s not, her asking you, “Who should I fire?” is a transparent and disgusting attempt to manipulate you into backing down.

Look, maybe she really is facing budget constraints, but a good manager would have said, “I agree that your work is great and warrants a promotion. Unfortunately, I don’t have a slot to promote you into right now, and my hands are tied from above. But I’m committed to making sure your work is recognized, and we’re revisiting the budget in two months, and I’m going to see what I can do then. Meanwhile, what else can we do to ensure you feel valued?”

Second, she told all your coworkers that you asked for a promotion and didn’t get one? I cannot imagine in what context she would bring this up, or why. It’s astonishingly unprofessional.

This woman is a jerk, plain and simple. Go get that promotion from another company.

{ 24 comments… read them below }

  1. Kat

    Wow, bosszilla sounds like a bully and maybe one other B word that doesn't need to be spelled out. Perhaps she mentioned it to the other coworkers as some sort of "heads up" or warning that don't bother asking for a promotion or a raise cause you ain't getting it. Or as a pathetic demo of the power she has. Like monkey's do when they pound their chests.

  2. Sarah

    The writer says "My boss is a monster. Exceptionally inappropriate, emotionally abusive, manipulative, etc.

    I've dealt with it."

    WHY?!

    Life is way to short to put up with what you claim to have been through.

    Don't "deal with it" QUIT!

    Remember, you were looking for a job when you found that one. I'm sure it's not the only one our there.

  3. A Girl Named Me

    Since this is an issue of money for the business and not of the job quality or responsibilities, I would ask her to give you the title immediately and then follow up with her during the budget review time to see where things are with that pay increase.

    I say this because you want that title. It's good for your resume. And while she is working on those budget issues, you should absolutely be working on on a resume. When one of the first things you say is that your boss is a monster – it's time to start looking.

    As a teeny tiny caveat, I have had employees ask me for a pay increase at a time when they knew (or should have known) that the money was not there. While the response from your boss was definitely out of line, if you knew that budgets had been set and there was no room for pay increases for anyone, you should not have asked for a raise. When to ask for a pay increase is just as important as how to ask for one.

  4. The Media Minion

    Thank you so much for answering my question!!! It made my day/week/month/year…

    So what had happened was that I didn't ask for a raise, but a title change. And suddenly it became "Oh it's a money issue" no matter how many times I said "OK, but what about title?" It was completely absurd, and lasted well over 3 hours.

    One of the first things I did after I had this conversation was update my resume. It's frustrating because I love my job duties here. And I carved out a little niche for myself with more clearly-thinking coworkers. (Thus, dealing with it)

    At this point, however, it seems the cons outweigh the pros. And I'm willing to put money on that, come January, something happens during "budget review" that ends up with me getting nothing–no title change.

    (Another thing I'm bothered about: In media, they take title pretty seriously. So I'm definitely getting passed up for jobs that I'm doing the work for/highly qualified for, because I'm still at this ridiculous title.)

    Anyway, the cherry on this sundae of ridiculousness is that we don't have a budget review, at least the type she infers. In January, our CEO looks at everyone's budget sheets across-the-board and decides if all company employees can have the cost-of-living increase. Usually it's a no, but that aside, it has nothing to do with individuals–that's this lady's job.

  5. Joey

    I'd like the request put into context. Have there been recent layoffs, cutbacks, budget reductions, etc? If the answer is yes as is the case with a lot of the media industry you might be lucky just to have a job. And when there are cutbacks most people have to take on more duties. If that's the case the response to your request, although it should have been worded differently is understandable.

  6. Anonymous

    Sounds like a stressed boss, tight budget and an employee that's working for a promotion.

    Your boss could have handled this a little better. I had a similar situation where an employee brought a promotion request to me. Yes, I could promote them, they were within salary range to the next level but there was no money in the budget for the raise.

    I told the person they're on my radar and we'll work on getting them to the next level. I also involved them in something I knew would be a slam dunk to the next level while we wait…
    and wait..
    for the budget to be approved.

    It better happen soon or someone else will snatch this person up!

  7. The Media Minion

    Hi Joey–to put it into context, there were voluntary leavings over the past few months. We did have a few firings over the past year, but they were performance-based rather than budget-related. (And I was given the workload of one of the people who were fired, which I brought up a few times.) There were two recent promotions in the past month, and three or four about six months ago.

    We had some restructuring following the layoffs, which distributed work evenly amongst every department except ours. We're really under-staffed for the amount of work we produce. In my meeting, she had mentioned possibly cutting one of my department co-workers, which made me feel exceptionally guilty and regretful of having asked in the first place for the promotion. Now I'm recognizing that as manipulation (Thanks Ask a Manager!).

    As it stands for our part of the business, our budget is the same as it's always been. Our numbers are pretty good and held steadily (we're short of what our numbers were prior to 2007, but we're approaching it again). That's the extent of what I know about that, though.

  8. Anonymous

    When updating your resume, could you tweak your title to align it more with your current job responsibilities?

    So if your title is, say, "assistant", but your responsibilities include managing an office, could you use the title "Assistant/Office Manager" on your resume to make it more attractive to employers?

    I'm not saying you should imply you got a promotion when you didn't, however you might be able to invent a title that better describes your position.

    But I'm not in the media industry, so if title is a big deal then I could see this getting you into trouble…

  9. Joey

    The only real way to get anywhere with this type of manager is to let them know you're serious- that is, you have to have another offer in hand and be prepared to jump ship if they don't give you an increase. most lazy managers only take these requests seriously if they know you're ready to put in your notice. Another offer is a huge bargaining chip.

  10. Anonymous

    My question is a little different. My sister has the boss from hell – an emotionally abusive, control freak that she cannot wait to get away from. Recently, there was an opening in another department and my sister applied to be considered for that position as she really wants to leave this witch behind. But a co-worker (who, incidentally, seems quite pally with the boss) told her that the current boss has to consent to her being transferred to a different department.

    My sister is suspicious. Is this usually how companies (this is a medium-sized corporation) work?Can a manager actually prevent an employee from moving to another team within the company? (inter-department transfer / hire)? Does the new hiring department have to seek permission from the current manager prior to hiring one of his underlings? If this were true, than can hostile / abusive bosses not prevent their underlings from 'escaping'?

    Could you please share your general belief in the matter.

    Thanks,

    -Ilana.

  11. Mike

    @Joey -

    I was under the impression that increased offers from a current employer when forced by an offer from someone else shouldn't be trusted. The thinking I've read widely is that by doing so, you're now marked as "unreliable" or worse "disloyal"* and they'll keep you around long enough to find a replacement.

    I'm still trying to understand how a title change affects the budget. Are desk signs and business cards particularly expensive in the media industry? ;)

    * I love how loyalty in these companies only runs one way!

  12. Sarah

    To Anon/Ilana at 1:03pm

    That is how it works at the company I work for.

    The interviewing manager will not see a current employee for an interview before having HR clear the interview with the interviewee's manager.

  13. The Media Minion

    Mike–ha! I never thought of it that way. Maybe I can make it easier and Sharpie correct my business cards. ;-)

    A title change, from what I know, is free. She might have wanted to give me a raise, which would have been nice, but mainly I wanted the title for the above reasons (could use it for somewhere else). My paranoia says that she's trying to keep me from going anywhere.

    As for the resume thing, I'm not sure what to do in order to get the jobs that I'm truly qualified for.

  14. Rebecca

    Could you phrase your current job description on your resume in such a way that it's clear you've been doing the work of a higher-level position?

    … or would people see that you don't have the title and just assume you were inflating the description? :/

    Either way, sorry to hear about your lousy position, MM.

  15. Joey

    Mike,
    it's all in the delivery. If you say "gimme a raise or I'll leave", then your asking them to call you on your threat. But most bosses respond to "I need your advice, I'd love to stay here, but I came across this other opportunity that offers…..". That almost always gives you a more realistic picture of your chances of getting a raise. Just be prepared to take that other offer.

  16. Anonymous

    I have been in situations where my duties were more in line with a higher position as well. One way to combat that is to have language in your resume that speaks to the higher level position Only.

    I did this when searching for my most recent position. I didn't include any tasks that are typical of my current title and instead only listed the tasks I do for the title/position I wanted.

    I know that in some fields titles matter, but I've found (as a recruiter) that more often than not, one company's X-Title is another company's Y-Title!

  17. Anonymous

    Where I am the promotion and title doesn't come without the compensation. That's been consistent with every company I've worked for and with over the last 20+ years. It's not a we'll give you this and make it up to you later deal.

    "She said that she could make a case for me in a few months, during budget review, but couldn't make any promises."

    Which could be true. Although the rest of the conversation reads combative there is hope.

    Remind the boss before budget review. If they blow again, it may be time to get the resume updated to reflect the increased responsibilities and say screw it.

    If you've done all you say & everyone else was promoted and there aren't any other issues, what's holding you back?

    And titles? Titles can change on a dime both up and back, completely screwing a resume causing explanation chaos during interviews. I'd much rather work for a company that pays me what I'm worth.

    As for ultimatums? They feel good but rarely play out well. Real world – You'll have them in a lurch for about a day before they realize you're already looking and wish you well in your new endeavor.

  18. Allison

    I really agree with the idea of keeping your current title , but phrasing your responsibilities so that it's clear you're doing more than what your title implies. If there is concern that it can sound like you are just over-inflating it, you can try to get around that by being very specific in the description and giving examples in the cover letter.

    My heart goes out to you with having such a terrible manager. I was in a very similar situation about 2 years ago. Something like this could have very easily happened in my office – my boss really got off on the 'power' he had, and he was almost sadistic in the way he enjoyed berating employees that were beneath him on the org chart. What I couldn't realize at the time is that people like this are generally VERY insecure/unhappy with themselves, and it just manifests itself this way. I promise you, it will get better!

  19. Anonymous

    You do high-quality work beyond your job title for half-price.

    Your boss belittles you to your face and behind your back with impunity.

    You have a respectful working relationship with colleagues.

    You will either quit or be fired.

    You can choose to search for another job now, while you are still doing good work with good colleagues.

    You can wait until your boss has completely undermined you and the colleagues you respect have gone.

    Lois Gory

  20. E

    OP, I'm reaching out a fist to give you a bump.

    I've dealt with my boss, too, for a little more than three years. Salaries were frozen because of the economy when I had my two-year review. I expressed that I wasn't expecting a salary increase, but I asked if a title bump would be possible, as recognition of my commitment and incredibly hard work and high performance. My manager said that titles correlate with salaries and one is never raised without the other.

    At the end of my third year, I did receive a promotion (he sold it as, "I'm giving you what you asked for," except I don't really see it that way, since I've given another year of service in the meantime, but…). I'm making a little more money and I have a new title, as well as considerable new responsibilities, on top of those I'd taken on as I've grown in this job, and the job has grown, since 2007. As much as I love [most of] my work, I can't do it well, let alone enjoy it, at this volume.

    My manager still refers to me as his assistant, asks me to handle his personal packages (or leaves them outside my officean unspoken command to handle them), forwards his phone to mine when he goes to the gym, etc. I'm basically the department assistant AND a coordinator, now, and the message that comes along with the growing work load is, "you asked for it."

    I've reached the point of updating my resume, too, and I've been looking for a new position for several months. Best of luck–to both of us!!

  21. slippersgreen

    I have a question,if you have job that you know is really not gonna benefit you in the long run do you stay or leave even though the money stinks and no benefits. but gives you scedule you want,In the meantime im tring to find a better job but keep getting these jobs with night work hours or too early. Just fustrated with the situation. Asked for a raise even if i get it.i know it wont be that much. Any ideas
    n

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