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.