refusing more work unless you get a raise or promotion

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A reader writes:

Can and how do I professionally decline additional duties/ responsibilities unless I receive a pay raise or promotion?

Background: I’ve been in the same position for almost 4 years. I’ve been promised multiple pay raises (including to bring me up to industry standard), which have never happened “due to budgetary reasons,” so I am being paid a few cents more than the people who “report” to me though I do not have manager in my title.

In the last 7 months, our management team has dwindled from 4 people running 3 customer service departments and reporting to my boss to 2 (the trainer and the quality assurance person who weren’t supervising any departments), and the trainer has just put in his notice. My boss is already telling him to give me all of his tool access so I can do his job as well but has never spoken to me about it. I am overwhelmed and underpaid. I am not willing to take on this stress unless I receive a pay raise and promotion. How can I decline the additional responsibilities unless I receive a pay raise and promotion without being fired for insubordination?

Well, there are no guarantees that you can. But you can certainly try.

If you simply say, “No, pay me more or I won’t do that,” you’re likely to hear “Sorry, but this is part of the job now” … and the subtext will be “take it or leave it.”

But there’s a better way to go about this — not one that’s guaranteed to work, but one that’s certainly a reasonable and professional way to proceed.

Meet with your boss and say something like this: “I’m concerned about the increasing workload that I’m being asked to handle. Our management team has gone from four people to two, and is about to go to one, and I’m picking up most of that work that used to be handled by other people. My plate is more than full at this point, and it’s a real challenge to juggle everything I’m now responsible for. I can help out on a short-term basis, but this has been the case for months and looks like it will continue and maybe even get worse. It’s a significant amount of stress and responsibility. I’m willing to continue helping out, but I want to revisit my title and my compensation. It’s not feasible for me to continue on with this increased workload at my current level of pay — which is the same pay level I’ve been at for four years, even though I’ve been told I’d receive raises in the past, and then never have. What can we do to get my pay and title up to something that reflects the work I’m doing?”

And be prepared to be asked what salary you want, which means researching and thinking this through beforehand so that you don’t undercut yourself or ask for more than is reasonable.

From there, listen to what your boss says. If she agrees, then great, problem solved … although make sure that the raise really happens this time, by following up your conversation with an email summarizing your agreement and setting a date for the raise to be effective, and then raising it immediately if you don’t see the raise by the time you’re supposed to.

But if she hems and haws, say this: “I understand that you can’t decide this on the spot, but I’m serious about figuring out how to proceed fairly quickly, since this has been going on for a while now. Can I follow up with you in a week?”

If you’re told (either now or when you follow up in a week) that your requests aren’t possible and the work just has to be done, then there’s your answer. Your company is not going to give you a raise or a promotion, and they’re not going to change your workload.

At that point, you need to decide if you want the job as it’s being offered (this salary, this title, this workload) or if you’d rather look for work elsewhere. Meanwhile, though, as long as you stay, you probably do need to do the work you’re being assigned … or at least, you can’t flatly refuse it.

However — and this is important — you can and should say things like, “I can do X, Y, and Z in 40 hours a week” (or 45, or whatever the norm is in your industry, recognizing that in many fields it’s more than 40), “which means that A, B, and C will be on the back burner until I have time to get to them, which may not be for a while.” But that’s a matter of prioritizing your responsibilities — it’s different than saying, “No, I refuse to accept A, B, and C altogether.”

Meanwhile, while you do that, you can certainly be looking for another job … and once you find one, leave and explain why.

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Anonymous

    I think what the OP needs to ask for is the headcount to get the work accomplished. Saying, “I can do it only if you give me more money,” is saying, “It’s possible, but I’m only willing to try for more money.”

    The sense I’m getting here is that doing the work of four people is impossible, and giving the OP more money isn’t going to change those laws of physics.

    If more headcount is not forthcoming, then the only option is to give it a decent try while looking for a job with more reasonable expectations.

    Reply
    1. twentymilehike

      The sense I’m getting here is that doing the work of four people is impossible, and giving the OP more money isn’t going to change those laws of physics.

      This is what I was thinking … if the work is overwhelming now, will having more money make it less overwhelming? Maybe for a short period of time, but it may very well still be overwhelming and could end with some nasty burnout.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I think the burnout often comes more from lack of recognition than adding 5 hours a week, though, and if that’s the OP’s case then you can even put it like that. “The additional responsibilities have added another 10% to my work hours; that’s not a sacrifice I’m prepared to make unless compensation expands accordingly.”

        Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I do think there are times when people are willing to take on significantly more work and stress, and when it’s possible to take it on, but they’re not going to feel good about doing it unless they’re compensated … because it will significantly change the hours and stress level that they originally signed up for.

      Reply
      1. KellyK

        Definitely! What I’m willing to put in 40 hours for and what I’m willing to put in 60 or 80 hours for are dramatically different.

        Part of how I look at it is that added work and stress will cost me something one way or another. Either my mental and physical health will take a hit because I’m sleeping less and living on take-out, or my pocketbook will take a hit because I end up paying for things I would ordinarily do myself (e.g., if I work a 10-hour day, I may have to pay someone to walk my dog). Maybe both. One way or another, working more is always going to cost me, and if it doesn’t come with more money, there’s a point where it stops being worth it.

        The logistics of my life are *my* problem, not the employer’s, but it has a big impact on what I’m willing to do and what I think is reasonable.

        Reply
      2. Mike C.

        This, big time. I’ve been put on a few projects where I was in way over my head but after all the overtime and craziness the overtime and cash bonus at the end was a big plus.

        Reply
      3. Anony

        Nicely put AAM. I was just thinking of something like this as I was reflecting back on my job. I was previously on a team where my long hours and # of projects completed were recognized; however, when I switched over to another team, I consistently worked overtime, finished my assignments by the deadline while other people on my team ket pushing my manager for an extended deadline. When I recently, asked for feedback, I was told that I was just doing “OK.”

        Reply
        1. Anony

          I also meant to add, that if I was given more money, I would still leave for one that pays less since I don’t feel that my effort is recognized as much as my manager as my previous team.

          Reply
  2. Jennifer

    Agree totally with Alison. I think you need to be very cognizant of how you phrase things in your conversation with your boss. No matter how justified you may be, I think issuing ultimatums such as “I will not do this until I get X” is just not a good idea. You’re on the wrong end of the power-balance to pull that off, and further, it could risk giving your boss some very unflattering impressions of you.

    I think it’s also important to realize the difference between “I am not willing to take on this stress unless I receive a pay raise and promotion. ” and “I really do not *want* to take on the stress…” Because, yes, flat out refusing to do something until you are correctly (in your eyes) reimbursed unfortunately pretty much is insubordination unless you have a contract stating otherwise.

    Reply
    1. KarenT

      Exactly. And saying “I won’t do this but I’ll do it for more money” really just shows your boss you do actually think it’s feasible.

      Reply
    2. Jennifer

      Somehow my last sentence was left off. Was simply going to say that if you are truly unwilling to do the work without the raise and/or promotion, you also truly need to be willing to resign over it.

      Further, regarding the comments about the amount of work being impossible for one person to do, that should be brought up as well if it is the case. Otherwise, your boss may feel misled if they do promote you while under the impression that would solve the problem.

      Reply
    3. fposte

      And whether it’s insubordination or not probably only matters from a UI standpoint–the place can fire the OP for refusing whether she’s insubordinate or not.

      Reply
  3. KarenT

    Also, I’m not saying the OP doesn’t deserve more money, but I am saying I don’t think this is the company that will give it to you. They’ve been putting you off for four years and are now having budgetary cuts.

    Reply
    1. twentymilehike

      They’ve been putting you off for four years and are now having budgetary cuts.

      Oh dear. This. This isn’t just the OP–this is me, and this is my husband. Hubby and I are in the same industry and people are getting laid of left and right. We are constantly being told we are lucky we’re still employed! How do you deal with this situation knowing there are financial contraints? Where do you draw the line between asking and just not bothering and moving on?

      It’s such a crappy situation to be in. Good luck, OP. It’s deflating, but I have to agree with KarenT. And if you ask and it works, let us know how it went!!

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        You’ve got to be clear on what salary you could command if you left. If you know you can’t really get more, then you probably don’t have much ground to stand on asking for an increase in your current job. But if you know what your market value is, that can help you make good decisions about how to handle this type of negotiation.

        Reply
        1. twentymilehike

          If you know you can’t really get more, then you probably don’t have much ground to stand on asking for an increase in your current job.

          That’s pretty much exactly it. My impression was that OP is in the same boat.

          One of my coworkers did ask recently and was shut down completely. The company is pretty open about “no extra money for anything” and one of our bosses openly did not take a salary for nearly a full year (she worked for FREE!?!…. well she’s one of the owners, so I guess that’s her choice). In fact, we normally get cut hours through the winter; this year they admit that they knew it was really hard on us and decided not to do it, even though cash flow was down.

          The alternative is to leave the industry–which is little like moving away from your family and friends. I keep asking myself, “will I be happy in another industry? Will I fit in? Will I be competetive compared to other candidates with experience is Other Industry?” Eeek!

          Reply
          1. Grace

            I’m in this boat too! I have all of the same hesitations to leaving this industry. I have already adjusted my career expectations once to a part of the industry that has more steady paychecks. Do I leave “my” industry for a job that pays about the same but might have raises? Finding work in a new or even related industry, when I have 9 years of specific experience in something else, has proved difficult.

            Reply
  4. Alexis

    I have been in a similar position as the OP and the worst part was that after two years of doing a job without a promotion or pay raise, they recently decided to promote someone else into the position that had never done the job before. It is a difficult place to be in, but I fully understand the OP’s position and I think they should find a way to ask for, at least, the official promotion. Otherwise they may end up feeling as I do, which is very resentful, very used and very angry with their employer.

    Reply
  5. Christopher de Mers

    This is a tough one; my sense is it’s a lost cause already since the employee has worked for several years doing more than he should reasonably have been expected to for the pay.

    At this point I don’t see the leverage – much less the respect from his management – he needs to make the bridge to another level.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    What if the boss doesn’t have the authority to grant what OP is requesting? (Which seems likely, given the multiple reneged promises and how the rest of the team is leaving without replacement.) If the request needs to go through upper management or HR, how does OP avoid getting strung along in the meantime?

    Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      I think OP should go with AAM’s second strategy in that case — laying out what OP can get done in a reasonable workweek, and stating that other projects will have to be deprioritized or s/he’s going to need additional help to get it all done.

      (coupled with a strategy of looking for another job, if the boss says “it all needs to get done somehow”)

      Reply
  7. Joey

    I’d take a slightly different approach. The approach that works with me is to look at it from a fairness standpoint- that you just want to be paid fairly. it would help if you know what the going rate is for those duties, either internally or externally so you know what really is fair.. Not feasible without more money insinuates a ransom sort of deal.

    Reply
  8. Adam V

    Nitpick:

    > Your company is not going to give you a raise or a promotion, and they’re not going to change your workload.

    Should that be “they *are* going to change your workload”?

    Reply
    1. Adam V

      Aaaand after re-reading, I was wrong – you meant “they’re not going to *reduce* your workload; you’re stuck at the new higher level”.

      Apologies!

      Reply
  9. Liz in the City

    I was in the same position–4 years, no raise, despite “we’ll give everyone raises as soon as the economy is better” promises. Still hasn’t happened, despite more and more work being piled on. It took me leaving (last day tomorrow!) for my boss to be like “if we gave you more money, would you stay?” Um, it shouldn’t take me leaving to give me what I deserved every year for four years. OP, be careful, and brush up your resume.

    Reply
  10. Lulu

    Aaand this would be why so many of us are unemployed: the 5-in-1 job. Which eventually becomes unsustainable, since usually there was a reason it was originally 5 jobs.

    As Anonymous #1 mentioned, it sounds like you’re at a point where no amount of money is going to change the fact that what you really need is headcount. Although I agree it’s unlikely they’d capitulate on a raise, for the reasons others have mentioned, I think it’s important to at least have a conversation where you bring up both the lack of previous pay increases and the degree to which your workload and responsibilities have increased during this time (and will increase with the new work). That way there’s no way they can plead ignorance of the situation in the future, should you either run into problems delivering on their expectations or finally decide it’s time to leave. And you never know, by detailing the situation, and spelling out the difference between 40(ish) hours and reality, they may finally get a reality check and bump you up a little in the interests of not becoming a one person department, although I certainly wouldn’t count on it. If nothing else, you’ll feel better having spoken up, even if you do have to absorb the new duties for the time being.

    Reply
  11. LL

    Time to dust off the resume. All signs seem to indicate that your employer is not willing and/or able to pay you a fair wage.

    Reply
  12. mimimi

    They’ve been mistreating you and breaking promises to you for four years. They have no intention of giving you a raise or a promotion, ever. You are going to need to leave this increasingly toxic dead-end job.

    Reply
  13. EngineerGirl

    Yes. The issue for me are the many broken promises. That is a pattern of lying, not a one time incident. It is time to leave.

    Make sure you put eall your responsibilities on your resume. If you can quantitatively show how you did so much with little, all the better. And when negotiating for your new job talk about your caste expectations, not what you are earning now.

    But find another job and leave. They’ve had their chance.

    Reply
      1. Cheryl

        “caste expectations” – when auto-correct gets political.

        Also, Alison’s post about how she increased her salary a large percentage in one career change is one of my favorites. Something about now she was ready to work for her market value. It might be a good time to revisit the idea of how to increase your salary during a job change – since the economy is improving? Maybe?

        Reply
  14. Jenny Xie

    What a sticky situation the OP is in. I agree that the history the employer has of not following through on raises over the last four years is disheartening. It’s not a situation to simply walk away from, however; it’ll be an edifying discussion for both the OP and the company to take stock of what X amount of work is worth in the industry. It might also change employer practices for the better, regardless of whether the OP decides to walk away.

    Reply
  15. Anony

    Being that we are at the end of the year which means those perf evals we all love will be right around the corner, I would wait it out a few months and mention this for a higher raiser in your upcoming review.

    Reply
    1. Anon2

      I do wonder if it would be a worse negotiating position to wait, since it lets management get comfortable with paying Op the same for so much more work. In this case, I imagine it would be better to have this conversation now, while things are changing.

      Reply
      1. Long Time Admin

        Right on!

        Once you prove to management that you *can* get all the work done, it becomes your job forever regardless of the extra hours and stress it took to push through and get that work done once.

        OP, let your manager know that everything needs to be re-prioritized because no human being can get it all done in a reasonable timeframe.

        Reply
  16. Not So NewReader

    No amount of money turns a 24 hour day into a 28 hour day.
    I like the references to the laws of physics and the 5 in 1 job.
    OP, some random thoughts here:
    You are doing the work of how many people? Before you jump in too deep- find out if there is any plans to hire people in the near future.
    How will they react when you have done A, B and C but did not even start D? Will you hear the sounds of whips cracking in the background?

    I would have to wonder if this is a ship that is sinking. Can you get a copy of the quarterly financial statements?

    OP, only you can sense how hard you can push- but I am envisioning a convo that goes something like this: “Boss, I have worked for the last four years with no raise. I started here doing A, B, C. I am now doing D, E and F. I think I have been a loyal employee and been supportive during these economic struggles we ALL are facing. I have worked at being an understanding employee.
    Currently, you are asking me to take on G and H. I have developed myself as a worker in the ways (X, Y and Z) the company needs me to. Don’t you think it is time that my pay reflects all these things?

    See, here the goal is to get the boss to admit that he believes you should be paid more. That is it. You are just going after his personal opinion.
    If you can get him to agree with you on a personal level, then your next step is to help him find persuasive wording to convey this same message to his boss, so he can get approval for your raise.

    What I like about this method is that you won’t look witchy or snarky. And you get to present the facts. Keep in mind that he can borrow your word choice to advocate on your behalf. If it helps picture him explaining to someone why it is time for your raise. What would be his main talking points?

    Reply
  17. Cassie

    This is an interesting question because when one of my coworkers asked if she would be getting additional compensation for extra work, the manager went off in a tizzy and took back the extra work.

    I don’t feel it’s something that would result in a big blow up. If the staffer goes in and says “I demand $X to do this extra work”, obviously that’s not cool. But just to ask “will I be compensated?” is a legitimate question, especially since there was no timeline as to when the additional duties would end (The staffer is in a union, if that matters).

    I feel you should be able to discuss with your boss openly about the workload and compensation. There’s only so many hours in a day, but also there’s only so much stress you can deal with. With a good boss, he/she will be understanding and open to hear your feedback. Even if it’s to just say “I understand what you’re saying but we really need your help on this right now”.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Without having more details, it’s hard to say, but that sounds like it might be a different type of situation. Asking for more money just for taking on something new is unlikely to go over well, even at good employers. Taking on new things tends to be par for the course; it’s how people grow in their positions. In the OP’s situation, she was taking on unreasonable amounts of new work, resulting in significant and long-term changes to her stress and time at work. But your coworker’s situation sounds like it might be more like the one in this post:
      http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2009/12/14/why-extra-work-without-extra-pay-can-pay-off

      Reply
      1. Cassie

        Oh, yes, I know the situations are different. In my anecdote, the additional work was only going to be temporary (until one staffer on leave came back and until new staffers were hired). And the univ has mechanisms to compensate additional short-term duties (by stipends) and long-term additional duties with raises. All subject to supervisor and dept approval, of course.

        It’s just the “asking” part of it and working this out that reminded me of the OP’s situation. Some managers are reasonable – others (like some I know) are not.

        Reply
  18. AsBs

    OP, I think give the general attitude of your employer you need to draw the boundaries clearly & set the right expectations. Given how unwilling they are about a pay raise or promotion.
    So strategy #2 is the best – say today/this week all i can complete is X, Y, Z. Other items – next week or need additional help.
    Please have an frank discussion with your boss on it. And …don’t succumb and over-do things. Remember, set fair expectations.

    Reply
  19. GeekChic

    Like Cassie, I find this to be an interesting question. I’ve taken on additional duties and I’ve definitely had the “there are only so many hours in the day, what are my priorities?” conversation with my bosses plenty of times.

    That said, I’ve also asked what my extra compensation would be for taking on significant extra duties (essentially the equivalent of doing another part-time job). I’ve also refused to take on additional duties when it would mean essentially adding another full-time position’s worth of work to my job. I have been pleasant but firm the few times this has come up.

    When I’ve done this I’ve either gotten a pay raise out of it or the additional duties have been withdrawn or restructured such that I don’t feel crushed under the workload. My bosses have not had a problem with it and I’ve been offered further projects and promotions following these discussions.

    Not sure why it’s always gone well… I can’t believe that my skill set is that in demand….

    Reply
    1. KellyK

      Reasonable managers who want you to stick around and not burn out, or who want to do right by you just for the sake of doing right by you?

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, I’m thinking something along those lines. Whereas the OP’s manager has promised her raises for four years and never come through — so I’m guessing very different types of managers.

        Reply
    2. Sasha

      You could just be a great employee, even if your skill set is relatively common. I would far prefer a good employee with a common skill set doing a common task than a terrible one with specialized skills.

      Reply
  20. Dmeris

    One of the worst experiences I ever had at work was having this conversation with a volatile boss a couple years ago. I had been assigned the work of three people as we went through endless staffing changes, and I was barely keeping myself above water. I was working 60-70 hour weeks and although I was basically holding the tasks together, I was only doing the necessary stuff and in a year or so a lot of the projects would start to fall apart.

    So I went in to my boss and said that, while I’m not a complainer, I’m starting to get concerned about the consistent increases in my workload, etc. He cut me off and basically told me that he is sick of my whining (which I had never done before) and my inability to take responsibility for my own incompetence, and he told me to get out of his office. It was such an off the wall reaction I couldn’t even believe it.

    My next step was going to human resources and filing a grievance against him. It went nowhere and I eventually quit with no notice – but not before observing exactly what I told people to watch for, which was that certain key projects were unraveling and we ended up in serious financial difficulties.

    Ugh I get a stomach ache just remembering this!

    Reply
  21. Brian

    Brush off your resume and look for another job. Take ‘personal days’ to do it. If you get a better offer, then turn in your notice, thank your colleagues for a great few years, and move on.

    Reply
  22. Natalie

    What can I do if my contract states a customer service role yet my employer wants me to be a sales rep, I don’t want the sales rep role.
    I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing, are they able to make me redundant as the customer service role needs to be a duel role of sales rep and customer service?

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      It’s all about negotation, but yes, they are. They can tell you that the needs of the company have changed and you need to adapt, meaning “take it or leave it”, especially in customer service.

      From personal experience, I can assure you that sometimes not even all the negotiation in the world is going to change the situation. My team was hired for a new project, we were seniors in our area, 3 to 4 languages each, most of us exceeding expectations, with the idea of advancing in our careers. We started getting more and more responsibilities, which we took gladly, in the beginning, with the promise of opening doors for future higher positions. Turns out those doors, windows and colorful positions were given to less experienced, less qualified people since we had become “too important in our job positions to be replaced”. We had received too much training, and were “too good” at what we were doing. Eventually my whole team left the company, with the bitter feeling of reaching a dead end.

      Reply
  23. Tom baker

    I get paid minimum wage UK for training New staff I’ve been in my job for 6 years is it legal to be on the same money as new staff

    Reply
  24. Ian Johnson Infinite Group

    At a previous company, I had already been performing the duties of the position I was supposed to be promoted to. When it came time for the position to be made official, suddenly everyone wanted to interview for it, yet they still kept from helping me with those duties.

    I was told that the only way to officially be considered for any management position was to have a four year degree. I had already been going back to college for a couple years, but had not informed my new manager. A few months before the final decision was made, I had obtained my degree and turned in all my official documents and a copy of the bachelors. That, coupled with several years of experience in the related field really made me a shoe-in. So, when the decision was made, they chose someone with no degree and far less experience, but that person was a long time friend of someone at the top.

    That really hit me hard. Not only had I been doing this position for over a year unofficially because I was determined to better my career, but then to find out that I was lied to about the requirements made it worse. It felt very personal.

    Reply
    1. Vanessa

      Ian Johnson- I am wondering what the outcome was of your situation? This sounds exactly what I am going through!! I did the higher position for over 2 years before they hired someone with lower qualifications and said the position was now in the managers title. After I complained about many policy breaches HR told me that the position was going to be advertised as the manager had relinquished the position in question… The other person that had been hired and working alongside me was of course hired due to a friend in head office and when the position became available it was offered to both of us. I have higher quals, experience in the position and other certificates that also made me a “shoe in” for the position.. BUT we had interviews (which felt very false and she didn’t even wear uniform to the interview which made me think it was all just for show!) And what do you know- she got the promotion and now am am pretty much the sh*t kicker!! I also took this very personally and was lied to about many things… So I am wondering if you are still at that job or if you have moved on etc… Cheers Vanessa

      Reply

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